Alliance for Fair Food Letter to Retail Food Industry (2009)

[The following letter was sent to over 50 supermarket, restaurant, and foodservice companies in Nov. 2009.]

November 30, 2009

Dear Sir/Madam:

As founders and endorsers of the Alliance for Fair Food, we write you today – more than two years after our initial correspondence and following nine years of a highly publicized campaign – to once again urge your company to help end 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 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). The CIW is an internationally recognized, award-winning farmworker organization based in Immokalee, Florida. It has assisted the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice in successfully investigating and prosecuting six cases of modern-day slavery in Florida agriculture. Together we promote principles and practices of socially responsible purchasing in the retail food industry that advance and ensure the human rights of farmworkers.

As you surely know, there is a well-documented human rights crisis in Florida’s fields, and conditions facing farmworkers who harvest your company's tomatoes are as urgent as they are appalling. In December 2008, two farm labor employers in Immokalee were sentenced to twelve years apiece in federal prison for enslaving nearly a dozen tomato harvesters. Workers were held against their will, beaten, chained, locked in box trucks at night, and forced to work harvesting tomatoes. U.S. Attorney Doug Molloy called it one of Florida's "biggest, ugliest slavery cases ever." This is the seventh such farm labor operation – involving well over one thousand workers in total – to be prosecuted for servitude in Florida in the past decade.

Fortunately, your company has a new opportunity to support social responsibility in the Florida tomato industry. On September 25, the CIW, Compass Group North America, and East Coast Growers and Packers announced sweeping changes to improve tomato harvesters' wages and working conditions. Compass is the first major foodservice provider to join Yum Brands, McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, Whole Foods Market, and Bon Appetit Management Company in working with the CIW to address the human rights crisis in Florida's fields.

Today three Florida tomato growers – including East Coast, the state's third largest producer – are implementing the CIW's Fair Food agreements. The news of farmworkers, growers, and retail food corporations cooperating to produce a fairer tomato prompted U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, a longtime observer of the campaign, to note, “Today marks the beginning of the end of the harvest of shame that has existed for far too long in Florida's tomato fields."

Yet much remains to be done. It is imperative that your company seize the opportunity to be part of the solution to Florida's longstanding shame of farmworker exploitation. At the table is a proven model, the expertise of the CIW, and a tremendous opportunity to join other major food retailers 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,

AFF 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

AFF Endorsers
United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries
Oxfam America
Pax Christi USA
U.S. Human Rights Network
National Farm Worker Ministry
Leadership Team, Sisters of Charity, BVM
United Students Against Sweatshops
Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA)
Student Labor Action Project
Student Action with Farmworkers
Agricultural Missions, Inc (AMI)
International Labor Rights Forum
California Institute for Rural Studies
The Real Food Challenge
Global Exchange
Global Rights
5 Rights, Inc.
PIEDAD
Pesticide Action North America
Bishop Chuck Leigh, Apostolic Catholic Church
Neil D. Michaud, Director, Peace and Justice Office, Catholic Diocese of Venice in Florida
Media Mobilizing Project
Philadelphia Student Union
Asian Americans United 
Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala/NISGUA

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