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Coalition of Immokalee Workers: Fighting for Food Justice

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is an organization that works towards food justice and corporate social responsibility, as well as working to end human trafficking and other labor abuses in the agriculture system.  One of their biggest projects is the Campaign for Fair Food, which educates consumers about exploitation of farm workers and works to end this exploitation.  So far, they have managed to reach Fair Food Agreements with several large food retailers including McDonald’s, Subway, and Whole Foods.

Photo courtesy of hihaivo on Flickr
Photo by user “hihaivo” on Flickr

The CIW was founded in 1993 as a small group of workers who met weekly “…to discuss how to better their community and their lives.”  Through three work stoppages and a month-long hunger strike, the CIW helped to win higher wages for tomato growers.  By 1998, farmers had won raises of 13-25%, bringing their salaries back to pre-1980 levels.  However, the workers’ pay was still well below the poverty line.

In 2001, they started the Campaign for Fair Food, and organized a boycott of Taco Bell.  They demanded that the fast food chain pay an extra penny per pound of tomatoes picked, and to only buy from “…growers who signed an enforceable code of conduct that addressed human rights violations in the fields.”  After four years, Taco Bell finally agreed to the demands and asked other fast-food corporations to do the same.  Other companies such as McDonald’s, Burger King, and Subway soon reached similar agreements with the CIW.

The CIW also works to end involuntary servitude as well.  Their Anti-Slavery Campaign has helped with the discovery, investigation, and prosecution of various farm slavery operations across the U.S.  They have also helped to pass legislation such as the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act.  Their efforts have earned them the recognition of the U.S. State Department as well as the White House.

Photo by user “hihaivo” on Flickr

In 2010, the CIW and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange signed an agreement that created the Fair Food Program, which involved a wage increase of a penny per pound of tomatoes for Florida farmworkers and a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment and forced labor, among other things.  A separate non-profit, the Fair Foods Standards Council, was created to oversee that the Fair Food Program standards were implemented.

In October, the CIW received the “Freedom from Want” medal at the Roosevelt Institute’s Four Freedoms Awards.  These awards honor people who embody the Four Freedoms described by Franklin D. Roosevelt – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.  Yet there is still much more work to be done, said Greg Asbed of the CIW in the organization’s acceptance speech.  “Our work is not done until all farmworkers live free from want,” said Asbed.  “Until all farmworkers live free from fear and until all farmworkers live free to enjoy the dignified life they deserve for the hard work they do.”
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