If you have eaten a tomato this winter, chances are very good that it was picked by a person who lives in virtual slavery..
“Hey out there to all our allies and supporters,
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.