The history of exploitation in farm work in the United States dates back to slavery.
While groups like the United Farm Workers of America achieved historic successes for farmworker justice, farm labor today remains one of the most difficult and most underpaid jobs in America. There are currently about 2 million farmworkers in America. And for far too long, they have been among the most abused, overlooked, and poorest paid workers in this country.
Farmworkers are generally paid by the piece rather than strictly by the hour, a system that is a direct legacy of slavery. Forced to work at a brutal pace in order to earn the equivalent of minimum wage, farmworkers live well below the poverty line. An average farmworker earns about $12,000 a year providing the goods that enable large retailers to make billions in annual profits.
But there is a solution to this exploitation.
A grassroots labor organization called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has developed a remarkable program to end poverty and exploitation in the tomato fields of Florida. The Fair Food Program asks large retailers like supermarkets and fast food restaurants to pay just a penny more per pound of tomatoes and to refuse to buy tomatoes from farms with human rights violations.
To date, over a dozen major retailers have signed on, including such giants as Walmart, McDonald’s, the YUM Brands, Chipotle, Burger King, Aramark and Subway.
The Fair Food Program has been called “one of the great human rights success stories of our day” in a Washington Post op-ed, “the best workplace monitoring program” in the U.S. in the New York Times, and a “smart mix of tools” that “could serve as a model elsewhere in the world” by the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights.
There are a number of retailers who have resisted signing this landmark agreement. Their forceful stand against the dignity and rights of workers is shameful.
The documentary “Food Chains” reveals the human cost in our food supply and the complicity of large buyers of produce like fast food and supermarkets. The film tells the story of the group of intrepid farmworkers who achieved a solution with the global supermarket industry through the ingenious Fair Food program. Their story is one of hope ― to ensure a dignified life for farm workers and a more humane, transparent food chain.
The Franciscan Peace Center will host a free screening of “Food Chains” on Thursday, Nov. 16, at 6:30 p.m. The event will take place at The Canticle ― home of the Sisters of St. Francis at 841 13th Ave. North in Clinton. For more information, visit www.ClintonFranciscans.com or call 242-7611.
Marketing director, Franciscan Peace Center