You’ll Soon Be Able to Tell If Your Tomatoes Were Picked by Empowered, Well-Paid Workers

The Fair Food Program says its label will assure consumers their produce is labor-friendly.

(Photo: Coalition of Immokalee Workers/Getty Images)

Oct 24, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

We have labels that tell us how our food is grown and where our food is grown, but until recently, who picked the produce we buy hasn’t figured prominently. Thanks to an expanding conversation about farm labor, there are now more cues designed to guide consumers to produce that was harvested by workers who are paid well and treated ethically.

Today, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a farmworker group that has radically reformed the Florida tomato industry over the last 13 years, introduced its own consumer label for its Fair Food Program.

The seal will appear on a sticker affixed to tomatoes purchased through the program, which adds 1.5 cents per pound to the price—a small hit to corporations such as Walmart and Chipotle that makes a world of difference for farm laborers who used to work in conditions described as modern slavery. The program requires that retailers and restaurants commit to a code of conduct that protects farmworkers from abuse and unsafe working conditions. It works to eliminate child labor, forced labor, and sexual harassment, all of which were recently widespread problems on Florida tomato farms.

There are 12 corporations participating in the program, including such fast-food industry leaders as Subway and McDonald’s. Whole Foods locations in the Southeast as well as cafeterias run by Compass Brands will be the first to display the new label, but it will be made available to all restaurants, retailers, and catering companies involved in the program.

“We think that with this label, consumers will continue to deepen their involvement in the campaign for fair food,” Lupe Gonzalo, a CIW member and farmworker, said in Spanish, speaking through an interpreter, during a phone interview Friday. “Often when consumers go to the store, they’re not sure where their food is coming from, but now people are going to be able to know which tomatoes were produced in dignified working conditions.”

The group has made huge strides over the past decade, though it’s still pushing both Wendy’s and Florida-based supermarket chain Publix to join the program. Although the label may introduce a new swath of people to the Fair Food Program for the first time, Gonzalo says that for her and her fellow workers, having a voice in the fields in far more important than recognition from consumers.

“Workers who have been here for years—for 20 years, for 30 years—they’ve seen the changes in the fields themselves, and that’s where the pride comes from,” she said. “It comes from being able to experience the difference in working in the fields even just five years ago versus now.”

“We want to make sure people understand that there is a crippling poverty that plagues the fields in this country, but that’s changing,” Gonzalo added. “We are changing that reality, and it is being changed by farmworkers ourselves.”