The Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ 20-Year Battle for a ‘Fair Food’ Label Finally Hits Stores

fair food label

You may soon notice yet another label on your organic tomato: Fair Food. The new label went national last month in a milestone moment for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers that represents Florida tomato farmworkers.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been battling some of the lowest farmworker wages in the country for decades. The group’s aim was to only raise wages by one penny per pound, as well as improve labor conditions in the fields where slavery-like conditions, sexual assault and wage theft were common. The new label works similar to Fair Trade, ensuring the farmworkers were paid a premium for their work and guaranteed human rights in the workplace.

After 21 years, Wal-Mart, Burger King, McDonald’s and Yum Brands and many of the world’s largest food service corporations, are now paying the one penny bonus. That penny can make the difference between a farmworker earning $10,000 a year and earning $16,000.

“We have waited nearly five years before revealing this label to the world today,” said the coalition’s Cruz Salucio in a statement. “Over those years, we have been doing the hard, day-by-day work of building the Fair Food Program in Florida’s fields — educating workers about their rights, investigating complaints, and identifying and eliminating bad actors and bad practices — so that today we can stand behind the fair conditions and effective monitoring process that this label represents.”

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ fight was at the center of a documentary called “Food Chains,” released in April. The group received a Freedom medal from the Roosevelt Institute this summer. Past recipients include Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Tom Brokaw and U.S. Presidents Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. And just last month the group received the Clinton Global Citizen Award, with former president Bill Clinton calling the work “the most astonishing thing politically happening in the world we’re living in today.”

Barry Estabrook exposed the industry in frightening detail in his 2011 must-read book “Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit.”

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.