Can the marketplace help reform the food system and bring justice to farmworkers? Yes it can. And it just did!
Yesterday, Whole Foods joined Costco, farmworkers, growers and consumer advocates to bring real, concrete improvements to the lives of hundreds of thousands of farmworkers across the Americas. By joining the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) buyers of fresh produce promise to help compensate growers who invest substantially to bring their workforce and farm systems into compliance with some of the highest standards addressing labor, pest management and food safety — ensuring voice and safe workplace for farmworkers and quality product for consumers.
Farmworkers face some of the most difficult conditions of any labor force. The EFI is one clear way improve those conditions for hardworking men and women (and too often kids) that have suffered for decades. Huge kudos to Whole Foods, Costco, farmworker leaders and the many others who have collaborated to make the EFI a reality.
Collaboration, the key to real reform
I couldn’t be more thrilled as three of the farmworker organizations I’ve supported for decades — United Farmworkers (UFW), Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United (PCUN) — have successfully collaborated as part of this incredible, multistakeholder team to improve agricultural products and process. The EFI process is profound, embracing both on-farm production and the wellbeing of farmworker communities. Here’s what one EFI worker, Valentin Esteban, told the New York Times in 2013:
"Sure, the money is important, but I also feel good because I am helping to improve quality and safety. Those things are important to my family, too.”
Just a few weeks ago, the EFI core team was joined by 25 workers from Mexico, Canada and the U.S. in a “Shared Value Summit” held at Costco headquarters in Issaquah, WA. There, we worked together to clearly articulate values that EFI brings to workers, growers and buyers alike.
I feel truly honored to have been a part of the EFI process since 2010. And it feels great to see it bear fruit! We saw the first produce with EFI's “Responsibly Grown, Farmworker Assured” label hit store shelves last spring; and just last weekend, I bought more EFI strawberries at the Costco in Richmond, CA. I’m eager to see the label at Whole Foods stores.
Gearing up for Farmworker Awareness Week
March 24-31 is National Farmworker Awareness Week. What good timing! You can now show your appreciation for these hardworking men and women by buying EFI-labeled strawberries, if they're sold at a Costco near you (EFI is still young and growing so availability is limited). But that's not all you can do. Check with Student Action with Farmworkers to see what's going on in your area.
In addition to celebrating the recent EFI news, I want to call out and effusively thank our many partners, allies and leaders in the U.S. farmworker movement. For years, we at PAN have worked closely with the Farmworker Association of Florida, the Farmworker Support Committee (CATA), and a great team of partners who helped make substantial improvements in farmworker safety laws just last year. And in addition to EFI, we've supported another marketplace initiative, the Agricultural Justice Project, with its social justice standard for agriculture geared towards organic family farm operations.
Stay tuned! We'll be bringing you more opportunties to support Farmworker Awareness Week very soon.
Photo: ChadPerez49 | Wikimedia