Big Deal: Trader Joe's Signs on to Fair Food Agreement

Supermarkets have been slow to support the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
(Photo: Coalition of Immokalee Workers)
Feb 9, 2012· 1 MIN READ
Barry Estabrook, a two-time James-Beard-Award-winning journalist, is the author of "Pig Tales: An Omnivore's Quest for Sustainable Meat," and "Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit"

Trader Joe’s, a national grocery chain with more than 350 outlets in nine states, has become the second major food retailer to sign on to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ (CIW) Fair Food Agreement.

For a more than a decade, the CIW, a grassroots farmworkers’ rights organization, has tried to persuade supermarket chains, fast food outlets, and other major produce buyers to sign Fair Food Agreements that would improve conditions for farmworkers in Florida's tomato industry. The agreements gives workers a raise from $50 to $80 a day and assure them basic rights that virtually every other employee in the United States enjoys, including accurate time keeping, clearly defined grievance procedures, safety education, and protection from violence and sexual harassment in the fields.

Fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King and institutional food-service companies like Sodexo came aboard. The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, a cooperative representing all major growers in the state, agreed to join the Fair Food effort. But with the exception of Whole Foods Market, not a single grocery retailer cooperated, until now.

“We are truly happy today to welcome Trader Joe’s aboard the Fair Food Program,” said Gerardo Reyes of the CIW. “Trader Joe’s is cherished by its customers for a number of reasons, but high on that list is the company’s commitment to ethical purchasing practices. With this agreement, Trader Joe’s reaffirms that commitment and sends a strong—and timely—message of support to the Florida growers who are choosing to do the right thing, investing in improved labor standards, despite the challenges of a difficult marketplace and tough economic times.”

Over the past year, the CIW has been pressuring Trader Joe’s through a series of demonstrations and petition drives at corporate headquarters in Monrovia, California, and at individual stores. A coordinated effort at Trader Joe’s locations in 40 cities was due to take place this coming weekend. The coalition asked supporters to cancel protests in light of the agreement.