Exciting new UFW initiatives for farm workers across state & national borders
While the United Farm Workers remains committed to progress through traditional union work, it also now acts globally—in Mexico, Central and South America—to improve farm worker pay and protections across state and national boundaries. The UFW is part of a consortium of unions, consumer and environmental groups, growers and major retailers. The Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) collaborates to produce safer, higher quality food under conditions that meaningfully improve wages and protections nationally and internationally. The UFW helped found EFI in 2008 to improve farm worker lives in greater numbers than can be achieved through unionization. See: http://www.equitablefood.org
Globalization is transforming agriculture. The majority of produce Americans consume is now imported. Big retailers want growers to supply produce year round—so the same companies now grow in the U.S., Mexico, Latin America and Africa. Miserable worker pay and conditions are endemic because there are no enforceable standards to protect them—and no economic incentive for growers to change. EFI fundamentally changes the paradigm. Through EFI, retailers will only purchase from growers—and pay premium prices—if growers observe fundamental labor, safety and environmental standards.
Labor standards. Part of the premiums retailers pay will enable growers to treat their workers better and observe new worker rights: Payment of a minimum wage exceeding government-set minimums paid in U.S. states and other nations; ending exemptions of farm workers from protective state and federal laws so they can get worker compensation and paid work breaks; pesticide protections exceeding existing federal requirements; ending abuses in the recruitment of guest workers; an airtight prohibition on sexual harassment; and an end to verbal and physical abuse of workers by supervisors.
Food-safety & pesticide standards. The federal government has proposed new food-safety regulations for farms; EFI exceeds those standards—and implements them. EFI requires risk assessments conducted prior to using pesticides, with an eye to reducing use of more toxic pesticides over time.
Enforcing standards. EFI is predicated on the idea that supply chain monitoring must create value for workers, growers, food companies and consumers alike. So EFI has launched a certification system through which farms found to comply with EFI standards are licensed to apply its “Responsibly Grown. Farmworker Assured.TM” label to their products. To help farms achieve compliance, EFI has created the Leadership Training Program. On each farm, a pair of EFI facilitators train a “Leadership Team” of workers and managers on how to apply labor, pesticide and food safety standards on site, how to engage the entire workforce in ongoing verification of compliance and how to achieve grass roots worker buy-in. The focus on worker involvement, collaboration with management and the link between food safety and working conditions sets EFI apart from other certification processes. See: http://www.equitablefood.org/#!what_we_do/cjcr and http://www.equitablefood.org/#!certification/c24gy
Working with partner organizations in Mexico since the mid-2000s, the UFW founded the CIERTO program to remedy abuses of guest workers. CIERTO works with farm employees and employers on both sides of the border to ensure no worker has to pay for the right to work, to stabilize the workforce and eliminate intimidation in the process.
The UFW partnered with a coffee farm in Nicaragua and two specialty coffee roasters in a pilot program embracing worker and management training, improved quality and stability, and higher worker earnings.
Finally, the UFW-launched its Forced Labor Program to tackle labor trafficking, debt peonage and slavery in U.S. agriculture. It performs education, outreach and collaboration with law enforcement agencies to boost reporting, investigation and prosecution of labor and human rights violations. It also connects victims with social services and helps them apply for T visas (for human trafficking victims). The “Reportalo” element of the program raises awareness through social media, PSAs and reporting violations through a toll free number and a mobile app.