Farmworkers picking tomatoes in Florida typically earn 50 cents for each 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick. It's a piddling amount for hard labor, and for some time now, the human rights organization Coalition for Immokalee Workers (CIW) has been calling on large corporations to commit to a penny-per-pound wage increase.
Chipotle Mexican Grill, the Tex-Mex chain that has built a name on sustainable food practices, has notably held out, and CIW has noticed, calling out the "chipocrisy" of a restaurant that says it makes "food with integrity" but conspicuously overlooks workers' rights. This week, Chipotle finally answered the call.
According to a press release by CIW, Chipotle and CIW have reached an agreement that will bring Chipotle into the CIW's Fair Food Program. The Fair Food Program works to elevate the conditions of farmworkers in a variety of ways, from improving wages to binding growers to certain protocols. Under the Fair Food Program, workers are granted a voice in health and safety issues, have access to worker-to-worker education on their protections, and are able to voice and resolve complaints through a procedure that protects workers from employer retaliation. Companies like Chipotle that commit to the Program pay a premium on their produce, which helps the Program fund its goals.
Chipotle joins ten other food industry players—including Trader Joe's, Burger King, and McDonald's—that have signed similar agreements. While the Tex-Mex chain is far smaller than those corporations, its reputation of being a company with a conscience helps it set an example for others.
Gerardo Reyes of the CIW said the recent development "marks a turning point in the sustainable food movement as a whole, whereby, thanks to Chipotle's leadership, farmworkers are finally recognized as true partners—every bit as vital as farmers, chefs, and restaurants—in bringing 'good food' to our tables."
Chipotle's reach became evident at this year's Grammy Awards, where its animated video depicting unsavory factory-farming practices stole the show; soon after, it went viral.
So what finally pushed Chipotle over the edge? The Examiner notes that CIW was planning a protest on October 6 at Chipotle's Cultivate Festival in Denver. Chipotle has been resisting CIW's requests to join the Fair Food Program for six years, with a steady stream of pressure from the workers' rights organization, including protests at more than 25 Chipotle locations in July of this year. CIW argued that Chipotle's Food With Integrity program was insufficient in protecting workers' rights, and that independent oversight—which CIW ensures via a third-party auditor—was necessary.
Whether brought on by a sudden epiphany about workers' rights or the fear of more negative publicity, Chipotle's decision comes just in time: Winter months are prime tomato-growing season in Florida, where most of the nation's tomatoes are grown. For farmworkers there who toil in substandard conditions, this is a step forward on a slow path toward a fair food system for all.