How is it that being pro-farmworker and pro-farmworker rights automatically makes you anti-agriculture and anti-grower? Are growers’ and farmworkers’ rights mutually exclusive? Why can’t a person be in favor of both?
This debate has been waged among all industries and individuals in those industries. Yes, in some cases there are bad actors that are knowingly taking advantage of workers to pad their bottom line. Pursuit of profit without due consideration of farmworkers’ wellbeing may be advantageous to an employer’s earnings, at least in the short-term, but has serious consequences in the long run as it hurts the employer’s ability to retain workers, thus hampering productivity. And, on the macro level, when those same employers are able to lobby and influence farm legislation that is anti-farmworker, it only magnifies those problems.
Pro-farmworker is clearly aligned with being pro-agriculture. Agriculture refers not just to how and what we grow, but how we tend to those working to plant, cultivate, and harvest crops. Farmworkers are just as vital as the crops they pick and in turn require just as much care and attention.
AFOP and organizations like it have spent years advocating for proper working conditions and empowering farmworkers to improve their family and working lives. In doing so, we’re ultimately strengthening the industry as a whole. Farmworkers are often exposed to a range of health and safety hazards and exploitative behaviors, which is why regulatory mechanisms have been put in place to address these needs. This has led to a divide among workers and the agricultural industry and its representatives, feeding into the pro-worker, anti-agriculture debate.
Looking at it from the equitable labor standpoint, companies that have adopted transparent labor practices tend to have positive economic growth because of the farmworkers’ increased productivity. The company’s public image also benefits when consumers feel like they are supporting “a good apple” because of the fair treatment and pay of their workers. Look at the “penny per pound” campaign and what was accomplished by major grocery stores signing the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program. If you look at it as a supply chain it’s a much easier concept to grasp because no chain is functional if there is a kink in it.
It’s about building a partnership and strengthening those weak links despite having different goals. Fair labor practices yield beneficial outcomes for all involved. And, although the argument remains that regulations, safety programs, or paying ‘living wages’ is a cost that agriculture cannot afford and will be passed down to the consumer, it is a moot point. Consumers have proven that they will in fact pay extra to companies that are addressing these violations. Not to mention, fair workplace practices lead to stronger mental and physical health of farmworkers, thus reinforcing the security of the agricultural workforce.