Farm Workers and Fair Food, with “Food Chains” Director Sanjay Rawal

Farm Workers and Fair Food, with “Food Chains” Director Sanjay Rawal

So, for 300 years in this country there was
really no such thing as fair food, meaning that there was no way to recognize, from a
consumer’s purchases, that workers were treated well. In the ’30s ’40s and ’50s a movement
started in California lead eventually by Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez that morphed into
the United Farmworkers Union. And people of a certain age, my age and above, can remember
not eating grapes or lettuce in the ’70s because of the nationwide boycotts against produce
that wasn’t picked fairly, that wasn’t picked in those days by union members. Now unions
have been decimated all across the country. In the ’80s and ’90s most of the union protections
that were won by farmworkers were rolled back. Farmworkers have two things against them.
Number one, in many states most workers can’t unionize without the fear of losing their
job. In Florida for example it’s a right to work state, which means euphemistically that
if you decide to unionize your employer can fire you just for that. California for example
they can’t fire you because you’re trying to organize a union. Secondly, according to the National Labor
Standards Act that was set in 1938 by F.D.R. that set the minimum wage requirements for
workers all across the country, farm workers were the exception. Farmworkers and domestic
workers were predominantly African-American. And in order for F.D.R. to pass that bill
he needed the support of the southern democrats who refused to let their African-Americans
have the same rights that workers all across the nation we’re having. So farmworkers and
domestic workers were excluded from that. So fast-forward to the present day and age.
There are no unions, farmworkers aren’t really protected by national labor laws, they definitely
aren’t entitled to overtime. And what that means is that for a consumer who’s asking
themselves is my food fair, the answer 99.99999 percent of the time is either no or there’s
no way to tell. My film Food Chains focuses on one small group of workers from Central
Florida, Southern Florida really called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Immokalee is a Native American word, which
means our home. And it’s a little tiny labor camp in Southern Florida right next to Naples.
And I call it a labor camp because it’s got a wintertime population of 40,000 people when
the harvest is in full swing. But there’s no City Council, there’s no Mayor, there’s
no real infrastructure in that city and it’s only 15 miles away from the richest ZIP Code
in America, Naples. So Immokalee is a labor camp. And in that little labor camp some of
the worst atrocities in this country have happened from modern-day slavery to sexual
harassment to really horrific, horrific crimes in the field. But a little group called the
CIW, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, created a program called the Fair Food Program. And
that Fair Food Program is really the only program in the United States that absolutely
guarantees that workers in the field earn more than sub poverty level wages and are
entitled to a complete spectrum of human rights guarantees. They’ve gotten 12 major retailers to sign
onto that program. And what that means in simple terms is that if you go to Walmart,
or Whole foods, Trader Joe’s, if you eat at almost any fast food restaurant in America,
except Wendy’s, in the winter time most likely your tomato is from that program. It’s a Fair
Food Tomato. So if you want to eat fair you can go to Whole Foods, you can go to Walmart
surprisingly, you can go to Trader Joe’s and buy their Florida tomatoes. That’s the only
product in the entire United States that’s absolutely guaranteed without a doubt to be
fair labor.

20 thoughts on “Farm Workers and Fair Food, with “Food Chains” Director Sanjay Rawal”

  1. Brilliant! I will have to look for the documentary, certainly worth a watch. It somehow doesn't surprise me that the dysfunctional laws toward farm workers had something to do with the American South.

  2. Ain't that cute  those poor folk from imokalee are paid well according to sanjay……… America needs a fucking revolution period point blank

  3. That's great to hear Walmart is supporting this awesome cause. Wendy's need to up their game. Is there a way to see a list of the 12 places? Is tomato their only produce?

  4. If you have no skills, then "fair" is whatever people are willing to pay for your manual labor- otherwise you'd do something else.  It's usually not much because any able bodied person can do it.  This encourages people to better themselves.  There's no "right" for picking fruit or flipping burgers to be a career- in fact, society is better if we try to discourage people from making this a career.

  5. Wow, so much fail.  Right to work States doesn't mean you can be fired for just joining a Union.  What it does mean is that you don't have to join a Union if you want a particular job.  If you get fired, it was because the business owner doesn't find your employment to be profitable to the business.  This notion of fair food is nothing but a harmful shaming scam to promote higher pay in an industry.  Most of the food you eat today is grown and harvested by robotics than by human labor.  Why, because of stupid laws that the fair food culture brought about.  If you truly want to promote the fair food concept, go to your local farmers market and purchase food from people who don't get paid an hourly wage to plant and pick it.

  6. The pickers still get paid a penny for a "pound" of tomatoes. And even then they are cheated because they don't really count the pound but the bucket which they figure is X pounds but require the workers to turn in heaping buckets to shave off even the penny a pound wage. Seeing that a tomato is over $2 each at Wholefoods this is a huge profit for the retailers and farm owners. Hopefully they'll get their 2 penny a pound raise essentially doubling their wage and costing the consumer nearly nothing.

  7. Is it really fair though if it is not organic? How many rashes, etc. do workers obtain from putting their hands in a bunch of hazardous chemicals via Monsanto? Tomatoes are some of the dirtiest foods out there if not purchased organically. Moreover, is it fair to the environment if not organic?

  8. and the fact that he only mentioned one company that is not "fair labor" (Wendy's) means this whole thing was produced by those companies against that company.

  9. lol everyone knows Walmart doesn't give a damn about wages, especially about tomato farmer's wages. If they pay workers minimum wage, I can only imagine the wages of the produce workers…just saying. 

  10. We need a revolution. Join a political party and demand changes when policies are set. Join unions where there are and form unions where there aren't.  Amandla!

  11. These workers pick and haul 4,000 pounds of tomatoes a day and are paid just one penny per pound. That is 40$ a day. Ridiculous that companies like Wendy's can't pay 2 pennies per lb instead so they could at least make 80$ for a day of hard labor in the field. Reminds me of that old folk song "Sixteen Tons".

  12. Una sugerencia podrían poner subtítulos en español para que aquél que no cepa inglés pueda comprender la idea gracias.

  13. The reason so much "union progress" was rolled back is because, by then, most of the workers' rights unions originally fought for…had become Federal Labor Law.  While the agricultural industry is still full of exceptions, if it weren't, produce would be prohibitively expensive to all but the wealthiest Americans…or agricultural profits would reduce to the point that downsizing the entire industry would be needed, resulting in less supply, driving prices up even more…self-destructive cycle.  Don't believe me?  Ask yourself why the majority of America's manufacturing jobs have been outsourced to other countries.  Answer:  If they weren't, Americans couldn't afford to "Buy American".

    Beyond that, to claim, "There are no unions," is ridiculously disingenuous as is the claim of, "…labor camp," where, "…some of the worst atrocities in America have happened," fifteen miles away from, "the wealthiest zip code in America."  He pointed out that the population of this non-city (which explains the lack of local government infrastructure or representation)fluctuates in connection with seasonal harvesting, meaning (A) people are free to come and go, and (B) people go there voluntarily to work at this "labor camp".

    That said, if major corporations are willing to cut into their own profits by helping to guarantee farm workers a "fair wage and workers' rights", I can only call it a good thing.  After all, the more people there are earning a livable wage, the fewer there are on Welfare, and the more privately controlled money is flowing through the economy.

  14. "While the agricultural industry is still full of exceptions, if it weren't, produce would be prohibitively expensive to all but the wealthiest Americans…" (comment by Omniphon below). That is fiction. Fact is that supermarket consumers are accustomed to artificially low prices on the backs of workers. That's unsustainable. Healthy, locally grown produce can be affordable even at higher prices when they make up a larger part of the food budget – a seeming contradiction that actually plays out, when health and local economy are factored in.

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