Alliance for Fair Food Letter to Retail Food Industry (2008)

[The following letter was sent to over 50 supermarket, restaurant, and foodservice companies in Nov. 2008.]

November 21, 2008

Dear Sir/Madam:

As founders and endorsers of the Alliance for Fair Food, we write you today – more than a year after our initial correspondence and following eight years of a highly publicized campaign – to once again urge your company to take a leadership role in ending forced labor, poverty wages and other human rights abuses faced by farmworkers harvesting tomatoes for the U.S. retail food industry.

The Alliance for Fair Food is a broad network of human rights, religious, student, labor, sustainable food and agriculture, environmental and grassroots organizations that work in partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a farmworker organization based in Florida. Together we promote principles and practices of socially responsible purchasing in the retail food industry that advance and ensure the human rights of farmworkers.

There is a well-documented human rights crisis in Florida’s tomato fields, and conditions facing farmworkers who harvest your company's tomatoes are as urgent as they are appalling. In September 2008, yet more Florida farm bosses pled guilty in federal court to what US Assistant Attorney Doug Malloy characterized as “slavery, plain and simple.” The January 2008 indictment described how a dozen workers were held against their will, beaten if they tried to leave, chained and locked in box trucks at night, and forced to work harvesting tomatoes. This is the seventh such farm labor operation to be prosecuted for servitude in Florida in the past decade – involving well over 1,000 workers and more than a dozen employers.

The good news is that a proven model for change exists. On September 9, 2008, Whole Foods Market and the CIW announced an agreement to directly improve wages and working conditions for Florida farmworkers in the company’s tomato supply chain. In May 2008 at the U.S. Capitol, Burger King Corporation and the CIW announced a similar accord.

Whole Foods Market and Burger King are the third and fourth major retail food companies – following Yum! Brands, Inc. in 2005 and McDonald’s Corporation in 2007 – to partner with the CIW to address the labor conditions in their tomato supply chain. These agreements guarantee at least a penny more per pound to workers harvesting tomatoes for these companies, a code of conduct based on the principle of worker participation, and a collaborative effort to develop a third party mechanism for monitoring conditions in the fields.
We now turn to your company for leadership in expanding these precedents throughout the retail food industry.

It is vitally important that your company take an active role in advancing human rights and fair wages for farmworkers 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 farmworker 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 CIW is an internationally recognized, award-winning farmworker organization based in Immokalee, FL. It has assisted the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI in successfully investigating and prosecuting cases of modern-day slavery and is effectively partnering with Whole Foods Market, Burger King, McDonald’s and Yum! Brands. The CIW has been recognized with the 2007 Anti-Slavery International Award, the 2005 Business Ethics Network Award, the 2003 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, and numerous other acknowledgements of their successful efforts to address the human right crisis in Florida fields.

At the table are a proven model, the expertise of the CIW, and a tremendous opportunity to join four major retail food companies in advancing the principles of fair food. We urge you to meet as soon as possible with the CIW to discuss how your company can become a leader in socially responsible purchasing practices that ensure the human rights of farmworkers in your tomato supply chain.

Sincerely,

Alliance for Fair Food Founding Committee
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights
National Social and Economic Rights Initiative
Student Farmworker Alliance
Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida

Faith
Pax Christi USA
Sojourners
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
Leadership Team, Sisters of Charity, BVM
National Catholic Rural Life Conference
Episcopal Network for Economic Justice
National Farm Worker Ministry
Interfaith Worker Justice
Agricultural Missions, Inc.
Buddhist Peace Fellowship
Rev. Linda Jaramillo, Executive Minister, United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries
Rabbi Michael Lerner, Chair, The Network of Spiritual Progressives; Editor, Tikkun Magazine
Bishop Chuck Leigh, President, Florida Council of Churches
Peace & Justice Office, Catholic Diocese of Venice
Rural & Migrant Ministry, New York
The Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary, New York
American Friends Service Committee, Colorado Office
Workers Interfaith Network, Minneapolis
Unitarian Universalist Church of St. Petersburg
Fr. Roger Holoubek, St. Maurice Catholic Church, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Pastor Jamie Bagley, Carll's Corner Community Fellowship

Human Rights
5 RIGHTS, INC
World Hunger Year
Global Exchange
National Employment Law Project
National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
Axis of Justice
Mexico Solidarity Network
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)
Miller School of Medicine Physicians for Human Rights

Labor
Sarita Gupta, Executive Director, National Jobs with Justice
Labor Council for Latin American Advancement
International Labor Rights Forum
FRESC: Good Jobs Strong Communities
Colorado Jobs with Justice
Denver Area Labor Federation

Student & Youth
United Students Against Sweatshops
Student Labor Action Project
United Students for Fair Trade
Students for a Democratic Society
Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Atzlan (MEChA), National
MEChA de Auraria
MEChA de ColorAztlan
MEChA de Calpulli Montanas del Norte
Student Action with Farmworkers
Real Food Challenge
Student Environmental Action Coalition
Yale Committee on Social Justice
Yale Commmittee on Racial Equality
Yale Divinity Latina/o Association
Oxfam at Samford Unversity

Sustainable Food & Agriculture
Family Farm Defenders
Food First/Institute for Food & Development Policy
Pesticide Action Network North America
People’s Grocery, Oakland, CA Just Harvest USA
Oakland Institute
Just Food (NY)
Just Coffee, Madison, WI
Sustainable Agriculture of Louisville
Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network
Maverick Farms
Peacework Organic Farms
The Kitchen Table Project
New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, Lowell, MA

Community
Resource Center of the Americas
Other Worlds
East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy
Miami for Peace
Michigan Migrant Legal Assistance Project, Inc.
Colorado Progressive Coalition of Immokalee Workers
Coloradans for Immigrant Rights
Migrant Support Services (MSS) of Wayne County, New York
Wayne Action for Racial Equality (WARE), Wayne County, New York
Lawrence Fair Food
Denver Fair Food

 

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1107 New Market Road :: Immokalee, FL 34142
(212) 253-1710 :: info(at)allianceforfairfood.org