CIW’S Fair Food Program Recognized By UN Global Compact

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We commend the UN Global Compact for recognizing the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ (CIW) Fair Food Program as a “case example” of a “sustainable” supply chain program.  It acknowledges the program as “designed to alter the American agricultural dynamic that has historically relied upon a powerless and compliant work force. Through a unique collaboration among workers, growers and retailers, the FFP is eliminating forced labor and other human rights abuses, and demonstrating that an entire industry, from top to bottom, can benefit from a system that demands verifiable accountability and respects the rights and concerns of all of its participants.”

The Global Compact, a UN initiative, in which businesses voluntarily agree to abide by a set of ten principles that include human and labor rights, highlights many case examples but rarely do such examples include genuine worker participation, empowerment and a grassroots movement.  While industry driven initiatives are welcome, they simply cannot deliver the kind of transparency, accountability and effectiveness of a model like the Fair Food Program (FFP). 

The FFP was created through a grass-roots movement of workers, combined with broad student, religious, labor, and community support.  It is unique among other supply chain initiatives in that its Code of Conduct is paired with an educated and empowered workforce as a primary means of code enforcement. Farmworkers are taught the Code “on-the-clock” by other farmworkers, and can lodge confidential complaints via a 24-7 hotline.  The Fair Food Standards Council, an independent, yet indigenous third party located in Florida, investigates worker complaints and arbitrates resolutions.    The Council also conducts audits. 

The FFP also triggers clear and timely market sanctions for violations that are not quickly corrected.  Tomato growers who violate the code risk loss of business from tomato purchasers such as Chipotle, Yum Brands (Taco Bell), McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Whole Foods Market, Bon Appetit Management Company, Compass Group, Aramark, Sodexo, and Trader Joe’s.   FFP links these growers and retailers together with binding contracts, enforceable by law. Finally, FFP is unique in terms of economic empowerment.  Workers at fields covered by the FFP are paid more—a penny a pound—for the tomatoes they pick, and the Code outlaws practices that have been used historically to effectively reduce worker earnings. 

To date, the Fair Food Standards Council has fielded 180 formal complaints from workers, and a host of informal ones.  Respect and dignity are the keystone to the complaint resolution process, as the Council facilitates worker and employer collaboration to resolve disputes.   The parties are challenged to discover the root causes of the conflicts and form corrective action plans.  “Cupping” tomatoes, is an example.  When workers complained of verbal abuse from supervisors, investigation revealed the source to be repeated disputes about the amount of tomatoes in workers’ buckets.  The 32 pound buckets can be filled beyond the brim by stacking or “cupping” tomatoes to a peak.   Workers were harassed by supervisors for not meeting cupping expectations and standards, which were purely subjective.   Both sides agreed in complaint resolution that buckets would not be filled beyond the brim, and that a filled-bucket could not exceed 34 pounds in weight.   As workers are paid by the bucket picked, the resolution also ended a practice that was effectively reducing worker earnings.

The Global Compact’s Supply Chain Initiative benefits from featuring the FFP not simply because of its unique nature, but also because of FFP’s proven sustainability.  Workers, growers, and retailers, acting in furtherance of respective self-interest, are combining to produce a practical harmony that protects both human rights and business brand.   

Members of the Global Compact and other businesses interested in supply chain sustainability should welcome the attention given the FFP, and respect a structure that has made human values operational in the marketplace.