“Social Justice” is a phrase that most people would say they agree with. Like “world peace”, if you ever said you were against it, you’d get some pretty strange looks. But, practically speaking, what does social justice look like for farmworkers? If people knew, would they really support it?
Social justice is an underlying principle for peaceful and prosperous coexistence within and among nations. We uphold the principles of social justice when we promote gender equality, or the rights of indigenous peoples and migrants. We advance social justice when we remove barriers that people face because of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture or disability.
On November 26, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly declared that every 20th of February should thereafter be known as the “World Day of Social Justice.” Their motto for 2020’s celebration (tomorrow!) is “Closing the Inequalities Gap to Achieve Social Justice.”
You may have guessed this by now, but farmworkers know something about inequality. They are not paid what they’re worth, if they’re even paid at all. Some suffer as slaves in “the land of the free and the home of the brave” – having been cheated out of their freedom by phantom debts, threats, and coercion.
For those farmworkers who are not literally enslaved, all of them are still at the very beginning of the supply chain, paid pennies for their work in order that the companies, suppliers, and finally, the customers after them can make (or save) more money.
But if customers and retailers are given the opportunity to pay more for a tomato and told that those extra pennies were going directly to the farmworker, would they do it?
Turns out, the answer to that is – sometimes – yes. Two different organizations – The Coalition of Immokalee Workers’s Fair Food Program (FFP) and the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) – have implemented a certification system that strives to put more pennies in farmworkers’ pockets, thereby “closing the inequalities gap.” Though EFI’s and FFP’s approaches are different, both organizations have successfully worked with retailers to pay a premium that is returned to the worker in the form of a bonus. As a result, the standard of living among farmworkers in the affected areas has gone up. EFI has generated $8.5 million in worker bonuses in the first five years of its program. CIW has completely eliminated modern-day slavery in the fields where its Fair Food Program is in operation:
With the advent of the Fair Food Program (FFP), the CIW reached the goal of prevention. Rather than cleaning up the abuse after the fact, worker education and monitoring backed by market consequences — enforceable zero tolerance — resulted in FFP farms having zero cases of forced labor in five-year period. In a region and an industry with an uninterrupted 300-year history of forced labor — from chattel slavery to convict leasing, debt bondage, and the modern-day slavery operations — this is a truly remarkable transformation. In three crops and seven states, the FFP is a welcome disruption.
As the United Nations states on their website, “Social justice cannot be attained in the absence of peace and security, or in the absence of respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms.” That’s why AFOP Health & Safety, along with organizations like EFI and CIW, constantly strives to establish safer environments for farmworkers in the U.S., even as we work to dispel the myths and prejudices against them. Because, as long as one person among us is not safe or fairly treated, our goal of social justice has not yet been reached.
Next time you’re at the supermarket, look for these farmworker-friendly labels!