The Current

Advocacy News + Updates

Throughout our Recipe for Change campaign this summer, we’ll be sharing stories about slavery in Florida’s tomato fields. We are grateful to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for providing this story.


Mariano’s Story

Thanksgiving week of 2007, Mariano punched his way through the ventilation hatch in the ceiling of a box truck in the farming town of Immokalee, Florida. He and his co-workers were held against their will for more than two years, violently forced to labor in Florida and South Carolina tomato fields, and padlocked into the windowless box truck at night. One worker was chained to a post by his employers. That day during Thanksgiving week, after escaping, Mariano found a ladder and went back to help his friends get out. 

The men reported their plight the police, and additional workers sought help from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW).

Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney General Doug Molloy, who handled the case, characterized their condition as “slavery, plain and simple.”  Some men bore marks of heavy beatings to their heads and bodies.  A co-worker of Mariano's walked into the CIW's office, saying that he wanted to "get away from his boss."  When asked why, he held out his hands. His wrists were swollen with visible marks of the chain used to chain his hands behind his back at night.  

Once safely out, Mariano would testify in federal court with these achingly simple words, "Bosses should not beat up the people who work with them."  Mariano’s farm bosses, who had employed dozens of tomato pickers, received 12-year prison sentences on charges of conspiracy, holding workers in involuntary servitude, and peonage.  

As stated in the DOJ press release during the sentencing, "[the employers] pleaded guilty to beating, threatening, restraining, and locking workers into trucks to force them to work as agricultural laborers…[They] were accused of paying the workers minimal wages and driving the workers into debt, while simultaneously threatening physical harm if the workers left their employment before their debts had been repaid."  

Since the escape, several men who were held against their will with Mariano have joined CIW for peaceful demonstrations to call on Publix to join the Fair Food Program and to take a moral stand against farmworker abuse and poverty, the fertile conditions in which the extreme of slavery can take root.  They participated in the Walk for Farmworker Justice, a march to Publix corporate headquarters in Lakeland, FL. They travelled eight hours to Tallahassee by bus to meet with a Cabinet Secretary at the Governor's Office in the Capitol on field slavery in the Sunshine State. They also acted as advisors for the content of the CIW's mobile Modern-Day Slavery Museum, a museum which is housed within a box truck of the same model in which Mariano and his fellow workers were held captive.

© Coalition of Immokalee Workers


Take Action!

Today the nation's largest retailers in the fast-food and food-service sectors have joined the CIW's Fair Food Program, a joint effort with farmworkers and Florida's largest tomato growers to confront slavery and other abuses on Florida's tomato farms. Chains like Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, McDonald's and Subway have agreed to buy Florida tomatoes only from suppliers that comply with the Fair Food Code of Conduct, designed to protect workers' basic rights. We’re calling on Publix, Kroger and Ahold to join too!

Take action today by sending a message to U.S. supermarkets encouraging them to sign on to the Fair Food Program.

Justice Campaigns mobilizes people around the country in support of U.S. policies that will lead to the abolition of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. Join us this summer for Recipe for Change, as we campaign for slave-free tomatoes.