IMMOKALEE, Fla. - Following a six-year struggle, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), representing 4,000 mostly immigrant tomato harvesters in South Florida, signed an agreement Oct. 4 with Chipotle Mexican Grill, ending the CIW's campaign against the company. Previously, the restaurant chain had claimed that although it had not signed off on the coalition's Fair Food Program, it was still in compliance with it because Chipotle purchases tomatoes from Florida growers who participate in the program.
The pact comes on the heels of an Immokalee Workers protest outside Chipotle's Denver headquarters on Oct. 2. Participants there erected a pyramid made out of 153 tomato buckets, the number of buckets the CIW says a "farmworker must fill to make the equivalent of minimum wage in a day," reports The Denver Post.
The agreement "marks a turning point in the sustainable food movement as a whole," where "farmworkers are finally recognized as true partners - every bit as vital as farmers, chefs, and restaurants - in bringing 'good food' to our tables," said Gerardo Reyes, of the Immokalee Workers group.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Chipotle came to terms a mere two days before a large CIW protest scheduled for Chipotle's annual Cultivate Festival in Denver. The company prides itself on serving "Food With Integrity," but Oscar Otzoy of the CIW said, prior to the Chipotle agreement, "There can be no legitimate definition of 'integrity,' sustainability or social responsibility when it comes to food without the participation of farmworkers and respect for our fundamental human rights,"
"The threat of negative publicity [at the Denver event] may be what finally convinced Chipotle to join the Fair Food program," opined an article on Examiner.com. The Immokalee Workers coalition and local activists also organized 25 protests across the country in July to expose what they called the company's "Chipocrisy" around worker rights and corporate responsibility.
Chipotle is now part of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' Fair Food Program, which the group says improves wages for tomato pickers while binding growers "to protocols and a code of conduct that explicitly include a voice for workers in health and safety issues, worker-to-worker education on the new protections under the code, and a complaint resolution procedure which workers can use without fear of retaliation."
Program participants pay an extra penny per pound for the tomatoes harvested by CIW members, with that money providing a pay raise for the harvesters. According to the Durham, N.C.-based Farmworker Advocacy Network, the average annual income for farmworkers nationally is $11,000 for individuals and $16,000 for families, with farmworkers on the East Coast earning about 35 percent less than in the rest of the country.
Chipotle, which has more than 1,200 restaurants across the U.S., is the 11th corporation to be targeted by the CIW's Fair Food Campaign and to subsequently agree to participate in its Fair Food Program. It joins such fast food chains and food-service companies as McDonald's, Subway, Taco Bell, Burger King, Aramark, Sodexo, Bon Appetit Management Co. and Compass Group, along with natural food chains Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.
"The CIW's advocacy begins at the top of the food supply chain," noted the Examiner.com article, "with consumers who demand that large food retailers source their produce only from growers who pay fair wages and treat their workers in accordance with national and international human rights standards."
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers launched its Fair Food Campaign in 2001 with a boycott of Taco Bell, the first such action that farmworkers had ever taken against a major fast-food chain.
"The logic behind the Campaign is simple," according to the coalition:
"Major corporate buyers purchase a tremendous volume of fruits and vegetables, leveraging their buying power to demand the lowest possible prices from their suppliers. This, in turn, exerts a powerful downward pressure on wages and working conditions in these suppliers' operations.
"A 2004 study released by Oxfam America, 'Like Machines in the Fields: Workers without Rights in American Agriculture' concludes: 'Squeezed by the buyers of their produce, growers pass on the costs and risks imposed on them to those on the lowest rung of the supply chain: the farmworkers they employ.' The Campaign aims to reverse this trend by harnessing the purchasing power of the food industry for the betterment of farmworker wages and working conditions."
The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange and the CIW agreed in 2010 to extend the CIW's Fair Food principles to more than 90 percent of the Sunshine State's tomato fields. According to the Imokalee Workers coalition, this pact has resulted in several improvements, including higher wages, payment to workers for all the hours they spend in the field, no more "over filling" of tomato buckets (which meant that workers were getting underpaid by up to ten percent for the tomatoes they picked), and the ability of workers to report violations of the Fair Food Code of Conduct confidentially and without fear of retaliation from bosses.
The CIW is still engaged in a campaign against Publix, a major supermarket chain in the Deep South with around 1,100 stores, to pressure it into joining the Fair Food Program. Around 200 people participated in an action outside a Publix in Sarasota, Fla., on Sept. 30 to protest the ejection of the Rev. Clay Thomas from the store during a Labor Day weekend protest.
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