Monday, December 08, 2008

Founded in 1993 the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)has tirelessly struggled to improve the lot of its immigrant farmworker members and halt abuses by Florida tomato growers that amount to modern day slavery. This "community-based worker organization" has settled on pressuring the corporate customers of the growers to pay an increased price to assure higher wages for the labourers involved. This is their "penny a pound" campaign. Their first success was with Yum Foods, owners of the Taco Bell chain, in 2005. In 2007 it was the turn of the McDonald's chain which, after 5 years of resistance agreed to the CIW's demands. Earlier this year the recalcitrant Burger King franchise which once hired spies to gather information on the CIW came to terms, and last September Whole Foods market agreed as well. Now, yet another corporate domino has fallen- the Subway Restaurant group. Here's the story from the AFL-CIO Blog. See the CIW website for more details.
The campaign to bring better wages and improve working conditions to Florida’s tomato fields took a big step last week when the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) reached agreement with Subway, the world’s third largest fast-food chain and biggest fast-food buyer of Florida tomatoes.

Subway also joins other fast-food industry leaders and the CIW in calling on the Florida tomato industry to institute an industry-wide penny per pound surcharge to increase wages for all Florida tomato harvesters. That means the workers will get 72 cents to 77 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick, up from 40 cents to 45 cents.

Subway is the latest restaurant or supermarket chain to sign an agreement with CIW. Yum! Brands, McDonald’s, Burger King and Whole Foods Market all have signed pacts. Geraldo Reyes of CIW says:

" With this agreement, the four largest restaurant companies in the world have now joined their voices to the growing call for a more modern, more humane agricultural industry in Florida. Now it is time for other fast-food companies and the supermarket industry to follow suit and for the promise of long-overdue labor reform in Florida’s fields contained in these agreements to be made real. "

The Subway/CIW pact also calls for a tougher supplier code of conduct that allows farm workers to help monitor the growers’ compliance and includes strict “zero tolerance” guidelines for the most egregious labor rights violations. Subway also has voluntarily extended the higher standards to its entire supply chain, not just tomatoes.

Gerardo Reyes (seated, right) of the CIW and Jan Risi of Subway’s purchasing arm celebrate the signing of an agreement to improve wages and working conditions in Florida’s tomato fields.
Leading up to all the agreements, the AFL-CIO mobilized thousands of workers to march, rally and protest the injustice in the tomato fields.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has championed the tomato workers’ cause, says the new agreement is “yet another blow to the scourge of slavery that continues to exist in the tomato fields of Florida.”

"Subway is to be congratulated for moving to ensure that none of its products are harvested by slave or near-slave labor. Sadly, too many other companies continue to tolerate this travesty.
The tomato workers also picked up some high-profile support from the religious community."
The Rev. Gradye Parsons, the top official of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), issued a statement praising the CIW and Subway for their agreement and challenging the remainder of the retail food industry to now follow suit.

"Subway’s decision sends an unmistakable message to the rest of the retail food industry and to Florida growers: The industry can and must ensure human rights for farm workers…
…Will the rest of the restaurant and grocery industry now step forward to become part of this momentous advance for human rights? The answer is not only up to the companies but to those of us who are conscious consumers as well. "

A little more than a week ago, more than 80 human rights, labor, student, faith and community organizations—members of the Alliance for Fair Food—sent a letter to some 50 supermarket, restaurant and food service companies calling on them to join the fight for justice in the tomato fields. The letter says, in part:

"It is vitally important that your company take an active role in advancing human rights and fair wages for farm workers given that your company’s low-cost, high-volume tomato purchasing practices help to create conditions in the fields where poverty wages and other human rights abuses flourish. Through these purchasing practices, retail food companies such as yours share responsibility for farm worker poverty and human rights abuses. However, your company also has the power to be a leader by improving wages and conditions in your supply chain by working with the CIW to implement socially responsible purchasing practices."

The Subway agreement came the same day that CIW began a Northeast Fair Food Tour to 10 cities along the East Coast to educate people about their cause and to highlight the role supermarkets and restaurants can play in solving the problem.

The tour began in Miami and continues through Dec. 10 with stops in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; Philadelphia; Boston; Providence, R.I.; New Haven and Milford, Conn.; and New York City. For more information and to follow the tour, click here.

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