Saturday, April 26, 2014

United We Stand

Sometimes it seems like the only news is bad news, so I was glad to see this piece in The New York Times. Agricultural work can be back-breakingly hard, and by all accounts, the workers in Immokalee, FL suffered under some of the worst conditions out there (up to and including actual slavery).

By banding together and putting pressure on tomato buyers, the Immokalee tomato workers got the tomato producers to increase wages and significantly improve working conditions. Looks like these tactics may be successful for other agricultural workers as well.
“When I first visited Immokalee, I heard appalling stories of abuse and modern slavery,” said Susan L. Marquis, dean of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, a public policy institution in Santa Monica, Calif. “But now the tomato fields in Immokalee are probably the best working environment in American agriculture. In the past three years, they’ve gone from being the worst to the best.”
Amassing all these company partnerships took time. The workers’ coalition organized a four-year boycott of Taco Bell to get its parent company, Yum Brands, to agree in 2005 to pay an extra penny a pound for tomatoes, helping increase workers’ wages. In 2007 the coalition sponsored a march to Burger King’s headquarters in Miami, pushing that company to join the effort. Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Chipotle and Subway have also signed on. 
Food is one of the most basic ways the personal is political, where our choices as consumers can really make a difference in working conditions, environmental impact, and animal welfare.

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