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When Supermarkets Opt Out of Fair Food: The Problem with Going It Alone
Earlier this month, I sent a letter to the CEOs of Ahold, Kroger, and Publix, asking them to join the Fair Food Program (FFP). Under the leadership of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), the FFP was developed by farmworkers and tomato growers in Florida, and has made enormous strides in ending slavery and other serious abuses on Floridas tomato farms. The Program requires participating buyers (like supermarkets) to pay a bit more for tomatoes (a penny and a half per pound) to support a small wage increase for tomato farmworkers, and to require their suppliers to abide by the Fair Food Code of Conduct. The Code of Conduct includes a zero tolerance policy for slavery and other serious abuses; buyers commit to purchasing their tomatoes from growers who abide by the Code, and not from those who wont. The FFP is overseen by an independent monitoring system called the Fair Food Standards Council.
I was grateful to receive a response from Ahold and was surprised to find that was more developed than the thank you for contacting us auto-reply I expected. Aholds Consumer Affairs Manager assured me that Stop & Shop (the Ahold-owned supermarket in my region) was committed to offering fairly-sourced products, but that they had chosen not to participate in the Fair Food Program, instead choosing to pay fair market price for tomatoes from growers who are in compliance with [Aholds] Standards of Engagement.
The letter went on to say that the tomato growers they work with in Immokalee had adopted CIWs Fair Food Code of Conduct anyway, and they expected these growers to abide by legal minimum standards of fair wages and working conditions. There were a few other details included in Aholds response that are worth noting: 1) the letter indicated that Ahold suspended purchasing tomatoes from Immokalee in 2010 in response to concerns of abuse and only resumed purchasing tomatoes from this region after growers agreed to comply with Aholds Standards of Engagement, and 2) that Ahold asked CIW to provide information concerning mistreatment of workers by their growers, which they have not received.
If you have reached out to supermarket chains in your region, its possible that youve received a similar response from a chain that hasnt joined the Fair Food Program, but has instead created its own set of standards. I wanted to learn more, so I reached out to our partners at CIW for help in analyzing this response. CIW explained several reasons why they believe this kind of go-it-alone response doesnt meet the standards of Fair Food Code of Conduct:
- After suspending tomato purchases from Immokalee to investigate human rights conditions in 2010, Ahold communicated that they only started buying tomatoes from the region again when their growers committed to Aholds Standards of Engagement. Our friends at CIW explained that Aholds standards, not unlike many other corporations, dont achieve everything that the Fair Food Code of Conduct standards developed in partnership by growers, buyers and farmworkers do.
- Ahold said they have asked for information from CIW on mistreatment of workers on the farms that grow their tomatoes. This is exactly the kind of reporting provided to buyers by the Fair Food Program, which Ahold has thus far refused to join. The Programs independent monitoring bodythe Fair Food Standards Council allows workers to safely report abuse so that such information can be brought to the attention of all concerned.
The major problem with the go-it-alone approach that some supermarket chains have chosen is that by not participating in the Fair Food Program and refusing to pay the 1.5 cent/pound increase in tomatoes, they can benefit from improvements made on Floridas tomato farms without paying their share to improve the industry and without incurring any obligations. Non-participating chains can also create a market for no-questions-asked tomatoes, which in and of itself erodes the progress made by the FFP with participating growers who are working hard to ensure fair working conditions.
Our national grocery chains are billion-dollar corporations. Surely, they can afford to pay a penny and a half more per pound of tomatoes to help guarantee that slavery and other serious human rights abuses are a thing of the past on Floridas tomato fields and committing to the Fair Food Program is the best way to ensure this! Join us this summer in campaigning for guaranteed slave-free tomatoes through the Fair Food Program at www.ijm.org/recipeforchange!
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 guaranteed slave-free tomatoes.