Saturday, November 23, 2013

Report and audit from the Fair Food Standards Council

The Fair Food Standards Council this week published its first report and audit from the Fair Food Program.

This report explains the operations, monitoring, and auditing of the agreements that the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has reached with selected major food manufacturers, restaurant chains, and food retailers.  Through these agreements, farm workers are able to protect their rights and earn a wage premium for part of their work (for example, they may earn a bonus per bucket on tomato harvest).  The report includes inspiring accounts of the difference these agreements can make, on issues ranging from getting paid for the full amount of time on worksite to protecting women from risk of rape by a crew boss. 

Previous posts on this blog describe my visits to the CIW in Florida in 2009 and 2012, which have affected how I think and teach about labor issues in the U.S. food system.  Barry Estabrook includes an engaging account of these labor issues in Tomatoland.

The new report on the Fair Food Program includes more detail than I have previously seen about how the fair food premiums are recorded, distributed, and audited.  I had been wanting to read about these audits, which increase my confidence in the pass-through mechanism for the premium -- the brand-name companies must pay tomato grower enterprises, which must pass along the correct amount to the workers (minus a specified deduction for the paper-work and transactions costs).  The CIW is able to reach such agreements with brand-name food and restaurant companies (which have a public reputation to protect), while it would have been more difficult to win agreement on a premium directly from the growers (who operate in a cut-throat competitive market).  I found it illuminating to see an exhibit with a photograph of an actual pay stub recording the premium.  Understanding this slightly convoluted system better, it is easier to think of it as a feasible business model worth expanding to other areas of U.S. farm labor.

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