On September 10, the CIW announced a game-changing development in its 15-year struggle for worker dignity in Florida's tomato fields:
"With the start of the new season only weeks away, East Coast Growers and Packers -- one of Florida's largest tomato growers -- has agreed to work with the CIW and food industry leaders to implement the CIW'S Fair Food agreements, including the penny-per-pound raise to harvesters, supply chain transparency, and a stringent code of conduct.
The agreements -- six in all, among them the world's four largest restaurant companies and the leading organic grocer -- had been held up for nearly two years by the resistance of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE), the powerful industry lobby.
"The past two years have been difficult, as farmworkers in Immokalee and throughout Florida have been stubbornly denied the benefits of the Fair Food agreements thanks to the FTGE," said Lucas Benitez of the CIW. "But we never stopped organizing, and during those two years some of the industry's largest buyers of tomatoes signed on to the agreements, creating an ever larger share of the market committed to purchasing tomatoes only from growers who agree to meet the higher standards called for by the CIW."
"We are extremely pleased that East Coast has shown the courage and the vision to seize on this tremendous opportunity and by so doing help lead the Florida tomato industry toward a fairer, more sustainable future," added Gerardo Reyes, also of the CIW. "We will be working closely with East Coast and our food industry partners in the coming weeks to ensure that we have an effective mechanism in place for passing the penny-per-pound to the workers and a solid plan for monitoring compliance with the code of conduct. There is still much work to be done but, at long last, we are working together, and when we work together -- farmworkers, growers, retailers, and consumers -- we can forge a relationship that will benefit all of us."
With a major grower now committed to implementing the CIW agreements, the Campaign for Fair Food turns to those companies that have remained on the sidelines, companies like Publix and Kroger, Sodexo and Aramark, Wendy's and Quizno's, Costco and WalMart. The familiar excuses for inaction -- "we don't get involved in disputes between our suppliers and their employees," or "but there's no way to get the penny to the workers" -- no longer hold.
The question to those companies now is simple: Will your company support social responsibility? Will your company put its purchasing power behind those in the Florida tomato industry who are willing to do the right thing for their workers, or will you continue to support the growers who stand against progress?
The time for stalling is over. Now, to borrow a phrase, is the season for action."