A recent report released by The Inventory of Farmworker Issues and Protections in the United States revealed startling information about conditions common among American farmworkers, including child labor, and wage earnings below federal standards.
The nation's food system employs some 1.4 million crop farmworkers. The Inventory of Farmworker Issues and Protections in the United States report highlighted a number of issues including:
- Farmworkers are exempt from most federal wage and hour standards, and even existing regulations are rarely enforced, leading to rampant wage theft and other abuses.
- Children as young as 12 are legally allowed to engage in farm work, although it is one of the most dangerous employment sectors.
- Widespread use of subcontractors leads to lack of transparency and difficulty enforcing existing laws.
- Health and safety standards are inadequate, and even those that exist are rarely enforced.
- Most farmworkers are ineligible for unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation insurance that is granted to employees in other sectors.
- Farmworkers are explicitly excluded from laws that protect collective bargaining and free association.
Developing this report produced by The Inventory of Farmworker Issues and Protections in the United States comes from a partnership between Bon Appétit Management Company Foundation and United Farm Workers (UFW), in hopes of moving market awareness towards a shift in purchasing power that favors ethical treatment of agricultural employees.
According to Maisie Greenawalt, vice president of strategy, Bon Appétit Management Company, "When we began questioning our suppliers about the human element in how the food was produced, we discovered they knew very little about the people who actually harvested it." Greenawalt says that their partnership with organizations such as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida has "opened our eyes" to the issues facing American farmworkers and they hope, opened the eyes of American consumers as well.
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Photo: Bob Jagendorf