February 11, 2008

CIW, Fair Food Austin Deliver Message to Whole Foods Headquaters

February 11, 2008

Kate Kelly, (512) 560-5897
Carlos Perez de Alejo, (321) 948-3423


Coalition of Immokalee Workers brings Campaign for Fair Food to Austin, presses Whole Foods for fair wages, transparency in tomato supply chain

Austin, Texas – On Monday, February 11, a delegation from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and the Fair Food Austin campaign will visit Whole Foods headquarters to encourage the world's leading natural and organic food retailer to take proactive measures to address sweatshop conditions in its tomato supply chain.

The CIW is an award-winning farmworker organization known for its exposure of several modern-day slavery operations in Florida agriculture. The CIW's Campaign for Fair Food appeals to major food industry players – including fast-food giant Burger King and Austin-based retailer Whole Foods – to leverage their market influence to demand full respect for the human rights of the workers who pick their tomatoes.

Kate Kelly of Fair Food Austin states, “Last year, Whole Foods announced strict new criteria for products it purchases from the developing world. If Whole Foods can use its influence to improve wages and working conditions for workers abroad, it can do the same for tomato pickers in Florida.” Ms. Kelly continues, “As a good faith effort, Whole Foods should establish transparency in its tomato supply chain. In an industry plagued by one forced labor case after another, transparency is essential if Whole Foods wishes to guarantee its consumers slavery-free products.”

Carlos Perez de Alejo of Fair Food Austin adds, “A company such as Whole Foods that publicly commits itself to socially responsible purchasing practices should jump at the chance to partner with the CIW, a proven organization with a sustainable model for change in Florida's fields. This is a valuable opportunity for Whole Foods to enhance its reputation while doing the right thing.”

Background: Florida’s farmworkers – including the workers who pick tomatoes for fast-food giants such as Burger King and retailers such as Whole Foods – face sweatshop conditions every day in the fields, including: sub-poverty wages (tomato pickers earn roughly $10,000/year, according to the USDOL); no raise in nearly 30 years (pickers are paid virtually the same per bucket piece rate today as in 1980 - at the going rate, workers must pick more than 2.5 TONS of tomatoes just to earn minimum wage for a typical 10-hr day); and the denial of fundamental labor rights (no right to overtime pay nor right to organize).

In the most extreme cases, workers face actual conditions of modern-day slavery. The CIW has helped federal civil rights officials to prosecute five slavery operations – involving over 1,000 workers – in Florida's fields since 1997.

In 2005, the CIW resolved a four-year, nationwide boycott against Taco Bell when the fast-food leader and its parent company, Yum Brands, agreed to pay a premium for its tomatoes to directly improve workers' sub-poverty wages and work with the CIW to address the labor abuses endemic to Florida agriculture. In 2007, after a two-year campaign, the CIW reached a similar agreement with McDonald's, the largest fast-food chain in the world.

For these efforts, the CIW received support from the Editorial Board of the Austin American-Statesman, “Penny pinchers won't let tomato pickers have it their way,” (1/11/08). This is the CIW's first visit to Austin since 2005.