October 5, 2009

An open letter to Henry Jackson, Aramark

Henry Jackson
Director of Dining Services, Aramark
The Texas Union
PO Box 7338
Austin TX 78713
(512) 475-6500

Dear Mr. Jackson:

As concerned students, alumni, and community members, we urge Aramark to follow the recent example set by the Compass Group North America in working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to eliminate human rights violations in its tomato supply chain.

According to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, “the norm is a disaster, and the extreme is slavery” for tomato harvesters in Florida's fields. The tomato picking piece rate has remained stagnant since 1980. A worker today must pick and haul roughly two and a half tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage for a typical ten-hour day. These wages – combined with the precarious and seasonal nature of farm labor – result in workers' sub-poverty annual earnings and create an environment where horrific forms of labor abuse flourish.

In the extreme, workers face situations of forced labor. The CIW – a Florida-based worker organization leading the movement to reform the state's farm labor relations – has aided the Department of Justice in the successful prosecution of six modern-day slavery cases involving more than one thousand farmworkers in the past decade. Fifteen farm labor supervisors are currently serving sentences in federal prison as a result of these slavery prosecutions.

On September 25, the CIW and Compass Group North America announced sweeping changes to improve tomato harvesters' wages and working conditions. Compass is the first major foodservice provider to join Yum Brands, McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, Whole Foods Market and Bon Appetit Management Company in partnering with the CIW to address the human rights crisis in Florida's fields.

Now we turn to Aramark. Your company claims to “conduct business with the utmost integrity and according to the highest ethical standard… working hard to continuously improve [its] actions.” With news of the Compass agreement, Aramark can no longer claim that it meets the highest ethical standards. We expect that your company will follow suit and establish an agreement with the CIW with all due diligence to demand those same higher standards of its tomato suppliers. Until that time, however, we have no choice but to intensify our educational efforts to inform the campus and community of Aramark's role in prolonging Florida's harvest of shame.


Members and Supporters of Fair Food Austin