Trader Joe's Joins the Fair Food Campaign!

protest-trader-joesBy Naomi Hernandez

Trader Joe’s has become the latest chain to sign a Fair Food Agreement with the Coalition of Immolakee Workers after over a year of intense pressure including online campaigns and protests against “Traitor” Joe’s.

“We are truly happy today to welcome Trader Joe’s aboard the Fair Food Program,” said Gerardo Reyes of the CIW. “Trader Joe’s is cherished by its customers for a number of reasons, but high on that list is the company’s commitment to ethical purchasing practices. With this agreement, Trader Joe’s reaffirms that commitment and sends a strong — and timely — message of support to the Florida growers who are choosing to do the right thing, investing in improved labor standards, despite the challenges of a difficult marketplace and tough economic times.”

This is only the latest success for the CIW, which has been working to improve the wages of Florida farm workers since 1993.  The coalition works on several goals, but the Fair Food Campaign is their most prominent one.  A groundbreaking approach to social responsibility in the US produce industry, the campagin combines the Fair Food Code of Conduct – a set of labor standards developed in a unique collaboration among farmworkers, tomato growers, and the food industry leaders who purchase Florida tomatoes – with a small price premium to help improve harvesters’ wages.

The average household income for a farmworker in the US is between $15,000-$17,500 a year, well below the federal poverty line.  This is a contributing factor to the prevalence of child labor in agriculture – families need the extra income just to survive. Tomato pickers in Florida receive the same basic rate of pay now as they did thirty years ago.  When adjusted for inflation, their wages have actually dropped by half over that period. They usually earn 50 cents per every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes.  Average workdays consist of 14 hours and they are not able to get overtime. The harsh working conditions along with the limited wages has led the CIW to devise their action plans against the corporations which are most exploitative of this system.

The CIW has various strategies to put pressure on important food chains in the United States and they’ve been successfully implementing those strategies since 2001 with their Taco Bell boycott. The boycott lasted for four years and incited boycott committees in almost all 50 states, which eventually led to an agreement with the chain in 2005.  McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Bon Appétit Management Company, Compass Group, Aramark, Sodexo, and Whole Foods have all since signe don as well.

Although support within the fast-food industry and other sectors of the food industry has grown and the CIW has been able to reach several agreements with different chains and food service providers, they have turned their focus to the supermarket industry, which they believe lies at the heart of their campaign. Whole Foods Market was the first supermarket to sign an agreement with the CIW, but it wasn’t until February of 2012 that they got the support of a second major supermarket chain, Trader Joe’s.

Protests against Trader Joe’s have been ongoing for the past year throughout their locations across the country. Trader Joe’s has actively resisted pressure from the coalition and other groups, but finally relented in February.

The CIW’s next target is supermarket chain Publix, and to reach their goal they are planning a 6-day fast on March. Other giants in the supermarket industry that they seek to make an agreement with in the future are Ahold and Kroger. The coalition sees the supermarket industry as the remaining obstacle in their goal to make significant changes for the rights of farm workers.

The coalition has grown from a small community initiative to a powerful and influential body with an expanding public presence. They seek to grow and to keep promoting meaningful change and through their campaigns raise awareness and reach necessary agreements that will produce a fair system between the food industries and farm workers.

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