The Current

Advocacy News + Updates

Look again at this photo. There’s something wrong. Tomato farms that join the Fair Food Program don’t have buckets that look like this one. But it’s not the bucket; it’s what inside!

The photo shows pickers hauling buckets that are “overfilled” by the new standards established by the Fair Food Program (FFP).  In fields where tomatoes are grown under a Fair Food Agreement, buckets can only be filled to the rim, ensuring that workers are not underpaid and overworked.

According to the independent Fair Food Standards Council, the “age-old practice of forced overfilling of picking buckets [was] a practice which effectively denied workers’ pay for up to 10% of the tomatoes harvested.”

Workers are paid 45 cents for every bucket they fill; each bucket weighs 32 pounds. Before the Fair Food Agreement was established, there was no way to regulate what was going into the buckets, and pickers were sometimes forced to fill the buckets with more tomatoes – making an already heavy bucket even heavier – and for no additional pay. That 32-pound bucket must be filled rapidly in sweltering conditions in order to keep up with the truck moving through the field. In the worst case scenarios, the abuse crossed the line into the federal definition of modern-day slavery—indeed, over 1,000 slave laborers have been freed from Florida’s tomato fields in the last 15 years. 

The Fair Food Program effectively and systemically works to change all of that by establishing a zero tolerance policy for slavery and other serious abuses. The FFP also requires the big buyers, like supermarkets and fast food chains, to pay a penny-per-pound price increase to augment workers’ wages and pay for the independent monitoring mechanism that allows workers to safely report abuse, including forced labor.

Ninety percent of the fresh off-season (October to May) tomatoes eaten in the U.S. come from Florida’s tomato fields. So getting supermarkets to support the Fair Food Program goes a long way toward ensuring that the tomatoes you serve on your dinner table are guaranteed slave-free.

TAKE ACTION with us this summer in support of Florida’s tomato farmworkers. You can tell major supermarkets that you want them to join the Fair Food Program. If you’ve already signed your name, download our petition and get your community involved. Instructions included.

Find your local Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods (both FFP participants) and/or farmer’s market to find guaranteed slave-free tomatoes for our featured weekly recipe (or your family’s own!). Post your pictures and/or family feedback on the recipe on the Recipe for Change Facebook page!

Video from CIW website relaying the issue of workers and overfilled tomato buckets.


Seth Wispelwey is a Field Organizer for IJM's Justice Campaigns. 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.