Fair Food Program
Taking worker-driven standards and enforcement mechanisms to scale
The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements continue to make headlines around the world every day. As these and other campaign efforts have made clear over many decades, some level of gender discrimination, sexual harassment, abuse and/or violence in the workplace is pervasive across industries and geographies.
The agriculture sector in the United States is no exception. In fact, women farmworkers face some of the worst gender inequality conditions in the country – it is estimated that 80% of farmworkers who are women are sexually harassed or assaulted in the course of their work.
“[Sexual harassment] is the dark underbelly of American agriculture.”
John Esformes, Pacific Tomato Growers
“Women are routinely – routinely – sexually harassed or assaulted in the fields.”
Greg Asbed, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Co-Founder of the Fair Food Program
On farms and in fields across the country, women farmworkers are often verbally or physically abused by supervisors or managers, frequently under threat of losing their jobs or the ability to work in the United States if they resist or report being raped, groped, grabbed, harassed, demeaned, discriminated against, or exposed to other such behaviors.
Moreover, “[w]omen farmworkers, just as their male counterparts, in fact suffer a wide range of degradations, including sub-standard wages, wage theft, physical and verbal abuse, gender and racial/ethnic discrimination, and high injury and fatality rates.”
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), built on a foundation of farmworker community organizing in Florida since 1993, established the Fair Food Program (FFP) in 2011.
CIW, farmworkers on participating farms, farmers and retail food companies implement the FFP. The Fair Food Standards Council (FFSC) is the program’s independent monitoring body and the only dedicated third party oversight organization of its kind for agriculture in the United States.
The FFP “harnesses the power of consumer demand to give farmworkers a voice in the decisions that affect their lives, and to eliminate the longstanding abuses that have plagued agriculture for generations,” including sexual harassment, violence, discrimination and abuse.
“The Fair Food Program is tackling gender-based violence and harassment alongside sub-poverty wages, forced labor, access to remedy, and many other human rights-related issues that have afflicted this industry in the past.”
Steven Hitov, Coalition of Immokalee Workers
The FFP currently boasts 14 participating buyers, including Yum Brands (which includes Taco Bell), Walmart, Chipotle, Trader Joe’s, Subway, Whole Foods, Burger King, and McDonald’s. Growers of 90% of Florida’s tomato production have signed on to the program. The FFP also involves strawberry and bell pepper farmers in Florida, as well as tomato growers across Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey. In mid-2018, the FFP will be expanding into other crops in Texas.
Key aspects of the initiative
The components of the FFP make up what is called the “Worker-driven Social Responsibility” (WSR) model. The key FFP mechanisms and relevant data to date include:
- Legally binding Fair Food Agreements between participating buyers and CIW: These agreements require the buyer to contribute to the Fair Food Premium aspect of the program, outlined below. They also provide market enforcement provisions to uphold the Fair Food Code of Conduct, which goes beyond legal compliance to set a more robust industry standard around sexual harassment and abuse, as well as issues such as forced labor, child labor, wage theft, working hours, direct employment and decent working conditions, including shade tents, clean drinking water, regular bathroom breaks, safe transportation and an end to forced overfilling of buckets, which contributes to underpaying workers while adding to the physical strain of farm work.
“[The FFP] ends up being a win-win-win proposition. Farmworkers’ lives are improved – immeasurably – every day. The growers individually become better operations, with less risk. And buyers no longer have to worry about the possibility of another case coming out.We’re taking a business approach to human rights that is worker-driven and based on the principle that companies need to use their market power to improve people’s lives.
Our ‘Worker-driven Social Responsibility’ (WSR) model works, and it can be replicated across other industries and geographies if more and more businesses get involved. The WSR Network is supporting these efforts, spreading the model to other areas in the United States, such as with the Milk with Dignity program in Vermont, and even overseas, feeding into the Bangladesh Accord and tackling workers’ rights issues in the seafood industry in Southeast Asia.”
Greg Asbed, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Co-Founder of the Fair Food Program
- Fair Food Premiums: Outlined within the Fair Food Agreements, this mechanism commits participating buyers to pay a “penny per pound” premium on top of the regular price paid for tomatoes or other covered products. The premium is then passed through by farmers as a bonus on worker’s paychecks, which are monitored by the FFSC. This component of the FFP has been lauded as an innovative living wage initiative that recognizes that “workers who worry about putting the next meal on their family’s table are often too constrained by fear to be effective monitors and defenders of [their own] rights,” including those relating to gender equality. Since the FFP’s inception, over US$26 million have been added to farmworkers’ payrolls.
- Worker education: At the time of hire and throughout the growing season, each farmworker covered by the FFP receives training on the Fair Food Code of Conduct, including its zero tolerance policies on forced labor, child labor, sexual violence and abuse in the workplace. The CIW Worker Education Committee, which is comprised of farmworkers themselves, conducts worker-to-worker training that takes place on company time and with a company representative present to demonstrate support from the employer. To date, over 220,000 workers have received “Know Your Rights and Responsibility” materials (available in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole). CIW has educated nearly 52,000 workers face-to-face.
- Independent audits: Conducted by the FFSC, the independent and sometimes unannounced FFP audits involve extensive and ongoing document review and interviews with all levels of a farm’s management, from the boardroom to the field. Moreover, worker interviews take place with 50% or more of the workforce on any given farm, due in large part to auditors’ efforts to reach workers both in the fields and offsite, as auditors visit housing camps, ride buses and make themselves present at transport spots. Importantly, supervisors are not present when onsite interviews are conducted to ensure openness of workers in sharing challenges or concerns. Audit reports are then provided to the grower and to CIW. Over 20,000 workers have been interviewed as part of the FFP audit program. As of October 2017, the program has redressed 6,839 audit findings of non-compliance.
Complaint resolution mechanism: In recognition that even unannounced audits are only a snapshot in time and acknowledging the right to remedy when human rights violations occur, the FFP includes a confidential complaints system that is independently run by the FFSC. This system centers on a toll-free, bilingual complaint line that FFSC investigators who know the relevant farms answer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The hotline information informs subsequent audit interviews and worker education programs. Since its start and covering around seven growing seasons so far, the program has resolved more than 2,000 complaints. Most complaints are resolved in less than two weeks and the vast majority in less than a month.
“We’ve received complaints and testimonies of hostile work environments, of supervisors asking for sexual favors in return for ensuring that this woman keeps her job. We’ve made sure that workers know that there are different avenues that they can take to make a complaint so that there isn’t any more sexual harassment in the fields.”
Lupita Aguila Arteaga, Fair Food Standards Council
When a complaint is submitted to the hotline, the FFSC investigates the situation either alone or in collaboration with the relevant grower, depending on the specifics of the situation, and then develops a corrective action plan for implementation by the farmer with support from FFSC. Whenever possible, resolutions of complaints are made known to the other workers to demonstrate a lack of retaliation for bringing complaints and to reconfirm the grower’s commitment to the program. The FFSC maintains a detailed database of complaints and corrective actions taken; an appeals mechanism is built into the system.
“In the instant information age, each brand is just one click away from being in the headlines for human rights violations. We’re holding the mirrors up to prevent the risk before it blows up in companies’ faces.
In sexual assault and other cases, we’ve seen each mechanism of this program kicking in and working the way they’re supposed to. Only a program like this can give brands reassurance while at the same time ensuring the protection of workers that come forward with issues and early warnings.
The headlines for the Florida tomato fields used to be ‘assault and slavery.’ Now, the industry is known as ‘the best work environment for agricultural workers in the entire United States.’”
Judge Laura Safer Espinoza, Fair Food Standards Council
Market enforcement: In the event that a serious violation of the Fair Food Code of Conduct arises at the farm level via any of the above mechanisms, the participating grower must remedy the situation. If the grower fails to do so, it is suspended from the FFP and the participating brands will therefore no longer buy from that supplier until it gains reentry to the FFP. This “real market” incentive within the FFP is a key contributor to the fact that sexual harassment and abuse are now the exception, rather than the rule, throughout the Florida tomato industry and in the additional farms covered by the program.
According to the FFSC, “These measures have brought an end to impunity for sexual violence and other forms of sexual harassment at Fair Food Program farms, where there have been zero cases of rape or attempted rape since the implementation of FFP standards in Season One. Cases of sexual harassment by supervisors with any type of physical contact have been virtually eliminated, with only one such case found since 2013.”
“Supervisors found by the FFSC to have engaged in sexual harassment with physical contact are immediately terminated and banned from employment at other FFP farms for up to two years. Participating Growers must carry out these terminations, or face suspension from the FFP with the accompanying loss of ability to sell to Participating Buyers. Supervisors terminated for less severe forms of harassment or discrimination also face a program-wide ban. Allegations of sexual harassment are investigated and resolved with unprecedented speed, averaging less than three weeks.”
Fair Foods 2017 Annual Report
“The work that [the FFP] does makes you feel that you are not so alone in this country. I think many women now have more courage to speak and not remain silent.”
Amalia Mejia Diaz, former farmworker who FFSC helped with a sexual assault case