This Wednesday, CIW leader Gerardo Reyes-Chavez told Democracy Now's Amy Goodman, “without workers, there is no food with integrity or without integrity–there is no food, period.” His point being that Chipotle Mexican Grill could not live up to its stated values unless our food system is accountable to ensuring the basic human rights of workers in the food supply chain. A day later, Chipotle conceded this point by becoming the 11th company to sign an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and join the Fair Food Program. The Fair Food Program is unique in the United States as the only industry-wide social responsibility program in domestic agriculture. Entering its third season, the FFP will cover over 90% of Florida's $500 million tomato industry and directly improve the lives of over 30,000 workers and their families through improved wages and working conditions. The Fair Food Program is a comprehensive, verifiable, and sustainable system.
The impact of Chipotle’s decision and indeed the Fair Food Program itself goes beyond the tomato industry. As CIW noted in a March, 2012 blog entry, “with increasing frequency, the CIW and Program auditors are receiving complaints from workers who, having picked tomatoes on participating growers’ farms earlier in the season, now find themselves beyond the reach of the program, where conditions are every bit as harsh and demeaning as they ever were.” These workers are shocked at the conditions in the fields outside the Fair Food Program, but also understand that the distinction among work fields is the dawning of a new age in farm work—one where food consumers are becoming partners with workers, concerned about human rights and willing to use their consumer sovereignty to force market and social change. Not surprisingly, participating growers also are finding their more humane workplaces are increasing worker retention and productivity, and reducing worker turnover and training.
Restaurants and super-markets for the last decade have capitalized on the growing consciousness among consumers about food quality and food sources and promoted sustainable and ethical food, giving particular attention to sourcing produce, when possible, from organic and local farmers, and using meat and dairy from animals unscathed by antibiotics and added hormones. Yet, too many industry giants profiting from this new consciousness steadfastly refuse to join CIW in ensuring that farmworkers are unscathed by violence, wage theft, sub-poverty wages, sexual harassment, unsafe conditions and abuse in the fields. Chipotle, however, has joined Yum Brands (Taco Bell), McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Whole Foods Market, Bon Appetit Management Company, Compass Group, Aramark, Sodexo, and Trader Joe’s in the Fair Food Program to tip the scales in favor of human rights and dignity for workers in the food supply chain.