Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Fighting For Fair Food

Fair Food For All!

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) gave a presentation at the Lucy Parson's Center to bring awareness to the struggles of tomato pickers in Florida and a few representatives from Slow Food BU attended. Most of the Immokalee workers are from Central America and Mexico and pick tomatoes by hand all day. To make Florida's minimum wage, they must pick 2.5 TONS of tomatoes each day. The tomatoes are picked by the bucket and the worker is paid 40 cents per bucket. Their wage hasn't risen since 1978, while consumers have seen vast inflation in the aisles of their supermarkets and fast food meals since then. The work is physically demanding, puts heavy strain on their backs, and they lack medical coverage, insurance or benefits. There have been many instances of slavery and and in some farms, armed guards threaten those who want to leave. But in the past 10 years, CIW has begun to improve their living and working conditions. There has been seven slavery ring busts by the Federal Government, freeing 1000 workers, and their wage has increased from 40-50 cents. In 2001, the Campaign for Fair Food began, putting pressure on the "Big Purchasers" to make their food a bit more fair. They started urging big fast food corporations to sign a contract demanding that the workers be paid 1 cent more per lb, that employers establish a code of conduct to prevent human rights abuses, and that there be a forum for the workers to have a voice. The campaign has been wildly successful and almost all major fast food labels (McDonalds, Taco Bell, Burger King, and most recently, Subway) and Whole Foods have agreed. The next step is to put pressure on grocery stores and food distributors. These demands are very modest, yet resistance is still strong. After the presentation we went to Star Market with the Coalition to hand-deliver a letter to the manager-a strategy they have found very effective in past campaigns.
So the next time you reach for a tomato in the grocery store, aside from asking if it was grown in a local sustainable manner, think of the workers who picked the food. Most local, sustainable food is produced in a fair manner, so buy directly from the farmers, and try to do your grocery shopping at Whole Foods, since they are committed to these principles. Awareness is the first step-it is only with consciousness and commitment that we can make change. Visit the CIW hompage and Alliance for Fair Food for more information and ways to get involved!

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