Monday, February 8, 2016
Risa E. Kaufman, Executive Director, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute, and lecturer-in-law, Columbia Law School
Human rights are alive and well in the Florida tomato fields, according to a report released last week by the Fair Food Standards Council. The report is the third annual update on the Fair Food Program, a groundbreaking worker-driven social responsibility program based in human rights. An outgrowth of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’
(CIW) Campaign for Fair Food, the Program is combating human trafficking, forced labor, sexual assault, and wage theft within the Florida tomato industry, and securing dramatic improvements in worker health and safety conditions. According to experts discussing the new report at a launch event last week, the Program is inspiring new efforts, as well.
The Fair Food Program has its origins in CIW’s Boot the Bell campaign, an almost four year boycott of Taco Bell that led to a 2005 Fair Food Agreement with Yum Brands (parent company of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC). Over the past ten years, the Program has grown remarkably, with retail and restaurant giants including Walmart, Whole Foods, McDonald’s, Burger King, Chipotle, Ahold USA, and Aramark signing on. These companies pledge to buy only from tomato growers who comply with the Fair Food Standards, a human rights-based Code of Conduct, and to pay the growers an extra penny-a-pound, which is passed on the workers. The new report notes that the 14 participating companies have paid $20 million in premiums through the penny-a-pound provision.
The new report confirms improvements to the Florida tomato industry recently reported by CBS News and the New York Times. The success of the Fair Food Program was recognized by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights during its 2013 visit to the U.S. and lauded by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during a White House Forum on combating human trafficking in supply chains. At the White House event, CIW was awarded a Presidential Medal for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons.
What contributes to the success of the Fair Food Program in eradicating modern-day slavery in Florida’s tomato industry? At the report launch event last week, experts identified two core components of the Program: it is worker-driven, and it has an “obsessive” focus on enforcement. Workers generated the Code of Conduct underlying the program, and CIW engages in worker-to-worker education on company time and company property. Company compliance with the Code of Conduct is monitored by the Fair Foods Standards Council , which overseen by Judge Laura Safer Espinoza, a recently retired New York State Supreme Court Justice. And it is backed by market consequences. Growers who violate the code are suspended from the program. Workers can lodge complaints through a 24-hour hotline, where calls are answered by a live person.
According to the new report, there have been over 1100 complaints brought under the Code of Conduct, leading to swift resolution of labor abuses. The Fair Food Standards Council has issued approximately 120 reports and corrective action plans, based on worker interviews and audits. According to the experts at the launch event, this efficacy also drives prevention.
The Program’s success can be measured by its replication, as well. The Fair Food Campaign is inspiring workers in other industries. Transformation might come next to the dairy industry, as the Milk with Dignity Campaign gets underway. Through the farmworker organization Migrant Justice, dairy workers in Vermont, with support and collaboration from CIW and the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, are adapting the Fair Food Campaign model. They recently secured an agreement of cooperation with Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.
And, the Fair Food Campaign is moving into new territory, including Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey, as well as new industries, including the strawberry and bell pepper industries.
Success should be celebrated. And it should be shared. For those looking for ways to communicate the “value added” of human rights in the domestic context and the importance of worker-led social responsibility, the 2015 annual report on the Fair Food Program offers concrete data and powerful illustration.