A participant in the Fast for Fair Food stands outside the Publix corporate headquarters. Credit: CIW.

Last week, at the end of a two-year campaign, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers finally succeeded in getting Trader Joe’s to sign on to its Fair Food Agreement. This agreement will further stabilize income for tomato pickers in Florida, as well as ensure decent working conditions for over 4,000 farm workers in the region.

Trader Joe’s capitulation was a major victory, but the coalition’s work is far from done. This week it is continuing its work with a six-day fast for fair food outside the corporate headquarters of Publix Super Markets. With the support of allies, faith leaders, and students, the group is urging the Publix Corporation to join its campaign for farm worker justice. The fast started on Monday, March 5.

Since its creation in the early nineties, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has striven to create better working conditions for farm workers in Florida. The coalition has also encouraged an active relationship between farm workers and producers. Its first success was with the fast-food industry in the early 90s through campaigns to change the practices of Taco Bell, McDonalds, and Burger King. The agreement it reached with these chains introduced accountability mechanisms to ensure ethical labor practices and human rights for farm workers. Other larger food providers such as Bon Appétit Management Co, Compass Group, Aramark, and Sodexo have also signed on to the campaign for fair food. Trader Joe’s can now include itself in the collection of companies that agree to ethical and sustainable practices for their employees.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has received an unprecedented amount of support in these last two decades of organizing — including support from respected economist and activist Raj Patel, who told me:

What the coalition has understood is that in fact what makes a campaign successful is not what makes appeals to employers better nature or a stable work force, but concern around justice for the more widely amplified.

That is, the coalition has achieved triumph through its inclusion of community members and consumers. Each action outside of a store or each person who picks up a flyer yields another potential ally. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers “understands that actually educating and transforming peoples attitudes is key to their success,” Patel said. It is not just about the farm workers, but all of us — we as the consumers who depend on nourishment, and the farm workers who depend on our dollar for their own nourishment.


Participants in the Fast for Fair Food stand by the road to Publix as the corporation's employees arrive at work. Credit: CIW.

When we purchase tomatoes from providers who maintain ethical business practices, we also make a critical political statement: we can in fact work together, and we can in fact get along.

As Patel puts it:

Although the sort of simplified assumption of economics suggest that it would be easier to assume that we were these selfish greedy rational individuals, more and more evidence is popping up that in fact we are not selfish or very rational.

We do, in fact, work together. We maintain resources together and we share this earth. Despite what the global market might want us to believe, it might actually be in our human nature to share. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has drawn on these feelings of empathy and solidarity to ensure the livelihood of thousands of farm workers in Immokalee, Florida. The coalition’s recent success is a strong reminder of our potentially powerful stance as consumers and human beings in relation to corporations. Patel said he shares this optimism:

If you look around the world today, and you see the efflorescence of protest, particularly from young people, it is important to read that as a sign that people are fed up with this idea of growth forever, and big business taking care of us. In ways the fact is that people are fed up with the lies of conventional economics and the trajectory of permanent growth. We’re living in a moment where people are ready to experiment with new ways of working together collectively and of respecting principals of justice, and you can see that everywhere.

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