We at Fair Food Austin are writing today to ask you, our supporters, to think about donating $25 to help students, young people, and low-wage workers from the Austin area attend an upcoming march being called for by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a migrant farmworker organization based in southern Florida.
We’re sure you all recall the Boot the Bell Campaign that the CIW won in 2005, where tomato pickers from Florida and their allies, including folks in Austin, boycotted Taco Bell for four years until the company agreed to stop human rights abuses, low wages, and ensure the end of slavery in their tomato supply chain. Since then, the CIW and their allies the Student/Farmworker Alliance have together secured agreements with ten major global corporations (including McDonalds, Aramark and Whole Foods), many of which Austin played a crucial role in bringing to the table. All these agreements work towards ending the poverty wages and abuses endemic to agriculture, and securing more dignity and power for working immigrant families, and have recently been joined and strengthened by agreements with some of the largest tomato growers in Florida! Needless to say, their struggle has had ripple effects, and serves as an influence and model for other organizations, including Workers Defense Project here in Austin.”
Words like ‘freedom’, ‘justice’ and ‘democracy’ are not common concepts; on the contrary, they are rare. People are not born knowing what these are. It takes enormous, and above all, individual effort to arrive at the respect for other people that these words imply. — James Baldwin
Director of Dining Services, Aramark
The Texas Union
PO Box 7338
Austin TX 78713
Dear Mr. Jackson:
As concerned students, alumni, and community members, we urge Aramark to follow the recent example set by the Compass Group North America in working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to eliminate human rights violations in its tomato supply chain.
According to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, “the norm is a disaster, and the extreme is slavery” for tomato harvesters in Florida’s fields. The tomato picking piece rate has remained stagnant since 1980. A worker today must pick and haul roughly two and a half tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage for a typical ten-hour day. These wages – combined with the precarious and seasonal nature of farm labor – result in workers’ sub-poverty annual earnings and create an environment where horrific forms of labor abuse flourish.
In the extreme, workers face situations of forced labor. The CIW – a Florida-based worker organization leading the movement to reform the state’s farm labor relations – has aided the Department of Justice in the successful prosecution of six modern-day slavery cases involving more than one thousand farmworkers in the past decade. Fifteen farm labor supervisors are currently serving sentences in federal prison as a result of these slavery prosecutions.
On September 25, the CIW and Compass Group North America announced sweeping changes to improve tomato harvesters’ wages and working conditions. Compass is the first major food-service provider to join Yum Brands, McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Whole Foods Market and Bon Appetit Management Company in partnering with the CIW to address the human rights crisis in Florida’s fields.
Now we turn to Aramark. Your company claims to “conduct business with the utmost integrity and according to the highest ethical standard… working hard to continuously improve [its] actions.” With news of the Compass agreement, Aramark can no longer claim that it meets the highest ethical standards. We expect that your company will follow suit and establish an agreement with the CIW with all due diligence to demand those same higher standards of its tomato suppliers. Until that time, however, we have no choice but to intensify our educational efforts to inform the campus and community of Aramark’s role in prolonging Florida’s harvest of shame.
I am very pleased to be able to report that East Coast Growers and Packers has entered into an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers whereby the workers will get better pay and better working conditions. Chipotle Mexican Grill has in turn contracted with ECGP to buy the tomatoes picked by the CIW workers.
“I hope that all our customers see this film (Food, Inc.),” said Steve Ells, founder, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle. “The more they know about where their food comes from, the more they will appreciate what we do.”
Sustainable food leaders’ letter
to Chipotle CEO Steve Ells
June 15, 2009
Mr. Steve Ells, CEO
Chipotle Mexican Grill
1404 Wynkoop St., Ste. 500
Denver, CO 80202-1729
Dear Mr. Ells,
We write with admiration for your efforts to create a socially just and environmentally responsible restaurant chain. We applaud your goal of sourcing “food with integrity,” food that’s “unprocessed, seasonal, family-farmed, sustainable, nutritious, naturally raised, added hormone free, organic, and artisanal.” Chipotle points the way to a new business model for national-scale restaurant chains: rather than scouring the globe for the cheapest commodities, restaurants should source in a region-appropriate way – bolstering and not undercutting regional food production networks.
Yet for us, naturally raised meat – important as it is – does not trump decently treated human beings. We are outraged by the working and living conditions we have seen in the Immokalee area of Florida, source of some 90 percent of the winter tomatoes consumed in the United States. Many of us have visited Immokalee, and see it as a stark example of the vast power discrepancies in our food system. In the winter-tomato market, a small number of very large buyers dictate terms to the seven or eight entities that control land in tomato country; those growers, in turn, squeeze the workers in brutal fashion. Real wages have fallen dramatically in Immokalee over the decades and now hover well below poverty level; housing conditions would not be out of place in apartheid-era South Africa. These are the normal conditions, experienced by thousands of workers in south Florida. No one can be surprised that in some extreme cases, right now, some of the people who pick our tomatoes are living in what can only be called modern-day slavery: held against their will and forced to harvest tomatoes without pay. In this context, Chipotle cannot claim the same integrity for the tomatoes it serves as it does for its meat, much less guarantee its customers that the tomatoes in its burritos were not picked by slaves.
We realize that Chipotle has announced that it’s paying an extra penny per pound for tomatoes, but we have to ask: What has Chipotle done since that announcement to identify and cultivate growers who are willing to raise their labor standards and pass the penny along to their workers? Your company has shown admirable leadership in working with – and incubating – meat suppliers willing to meet your higher standards. But your failure to do that same hard work in the Florida tomato industry – together with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) – threatens to render your announcement an empty gesture aimed more at public relations damage control than an effort to make real change.
We view the CIW’s struggle for dignity as a non-negotiable part of the struggle for a sustainable food system. Therefore, we strongly urge you to enter into an agreement with this worker-led organization that has been fighting tirelessly to improve conditions in tomato country since 1993. As you know, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange has acted to block the penny-per-pound raise agreed to by McDonald’s, Yum Brands, Burger King and others, by threatening to fine any grower who cooperates with the buyers and the CIW. The extra penny paid out by these companies now sits in an escrow account, and workers in the fields continue making the same dismal wage. The growers clearly fear the power tomato pickers have galvanized through the efforts of the CIW and Chipotle’s refusal to sign an agreement with the CIW only bolsters the growers’ intransigence.
Last month, another national-scale food company with a social mission, Bon Appetit, signed a far-reaching deal with CIW that goes well beyond the penny per pound raise. We urge you to study the CIW-Bamco agreement and step up your efforts to identify growers – big or small – who will work with you to make “food with integrity” truly “fair food.”
If Chipotle is sincere in its wishes to reform its supply chain, the time has come to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers as a true partner in the protection of farmworkers rights.
* Eric Schlosser, Author, Fast Food Nation, Co-Producer “Food, Inc.”
* Robert Kenner, Director, “Food, Inc.”
* Raj Patel, Author, Stuffed and Starved
* Frances Moore Lappé, Author, Diet for a Small Planet
* Curt Ellis, Co-Producer, “King Corn” * Will Allen, Founder & CEO, Growing Power, Inc. * Erika Allen, Chicago Projects Manager, Growing Power, Inc. * Winona LaDuke, Executive Director, Honor the Earth
* Josh Viertel, President, Slow Food USA
* Ben Burkett, President, National Family Farm Coalition * Kenny Ausubel, CEO and Founder, Bioneers
* Jim Cochran, Founder and President, Swanton Berry Farm
* John Peck, Executive Director, Family Farm Defenders
* Clayton Brascoupe, Program Director, Traditional Native American Farmers Association
* Ronnie Cummins, National Director, Organic Consumers Association
* Rob Everts, Executive Director, Equal Exchange
* Bill Ayres, Executive Director, WHY (World Hunger Year)
* Andy Fisher, Executive Director, Community Food Security Coalition
* Kathryn Gilje, Executive Director, Pesticide Action Network North America
* Eric Holt Gimenez, Executive Director, Food First/Institute for Development Policy
* Tom Philpott, Food Editor, Grist.org; Co-Founder, Maverick Farms
* Anna Lappé, Co-Founder, Small Planet Fund and Small Planet Institute
* LaDonna Redmond, President, Institute for Community Resource Development
* Brahm Amahdi, Co-Founder and Executive Director, People’s Grocery
* Margaret Williams, Executive Director, The Food Project
* Jacquie Berger, Executive Director, Just Food
* Jim Goodman, Kellogg/IATP Food & Society Policy Fellow; Organic Dairy Farmer
* Sean Sellers, IATP Food & Society Policy Fellow
* Michael O’Gorman, Director, Just Farms Consulting * Stephen Bartlett, Coordinator, Sustainable Agriculture of Louisville (SAL)
* South Central Farmers (LA) * The Real Food Challenge
* Just Harvest USA
The CIW is a community-based organization of mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida.
We strive to build our strength as a community on a basis of reflection and analysis, constant attention to coalition-building across ethnic divisions, and an ongoing investment in leadership development to help our members continually develop their skills in community education and organization.