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Must-See Farmworker Video Takes on Food Industry Hypocrisy | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Must-See Farmworker Video Takes on Food Industry Hypocrisy

This piece is cross-posted from Huffington Post.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the remarkable farmworker organization in Florida that I have written about many times over the years as they continue to win victory after victory in their Campaign for Fair Food, has done it again.

This time they have put together a must-see video that is mandatory watching this holiday season:

Here's an extended excerpt from the CIW's website in which they explain their reasons for putting this remarkable video together:

The holiday season is upon us, which means it's time again to gather around the table with loved ones to celebrate another year of life together, of new beginnings and old friends, of triumphs and of the challenges ahead.

The holiday table unites us, and reminds us that—no matter how high, or low, our day to day lives may take us—in the end, we always make our way back to those whom we love the most, and when we are with them, the world feels right.

Love is the essence of the holidays. Love for our parents and their parents, love for our children and their children. Love for our friends, and love for all men and women with whom we share this fragile world. The holiday table reminds us that, in the end, we are all family, and that we can only truly enjoy the bounties that life gives us if we all enjoy them together, as one.

No one knows this better than Publix. Its holiday commercials are a tour de force in touching that place deep inside each of us that loves not just our families and friends, but our fellow man, too, regardless of the divisions that may separate us in our daily lives. Publix commercials never fail to remind us just how much we have to be thankful for, and how powerful an emotion our love can truly be.

But love without goodwill is an empty emotion. And, sadly, the holiday season has become an annual reminder that Publix—a company founded by a man, George Jenkins, who famously said the words "Don't let making a profit stand in the way of doing the right thing"—is a company that has lost its way. Like any family, the families who own and run Publix gather around their holiday tables and reflect on their joys and struggles. For the families who run Publix, among those joys, year after year, are soaring profits. Yet they inexplicably continue to turn their backs on the farmworkers who make those profits possible.

Despite the tremendous strides made by the Fair Food Program in recent years—progress made possible thanks to tens of thousands of consumers, dozens of Florida tomato growers, and eleven multi-billion dollar food corporations that have joined farmworkers at the Fair Food table—Publix refuses to do its part to help farmworkers live a dignified life for the backbreaking, essential work they do day in and day out. In the words of the CIW's Lucas Benitez, "Publix doesn't want us at the table. They want us under the table."

No matter what your faith or philosophy, the holiday season is a time to remember that no one was born into this world to suffer, and that, in some real way, the suffering of one diminishes us all. This year, let's remind Publix of the true meaning of love, a love that goes beyond the bottom line and embraces all the people that make up Publix's extended family, including the farmworkers that put food on their shelves and the consumers who ask their favorite grocery store to make that food Fair Food.

To do so, you can click here to sign a Change.org petition to Publix today. Ask Publix CEO Ed Crenshaw to ensure that his company "be part of a proven model to address the root cause of farmworker poverty across Florida, and demonstrate that it values the hard work of farmworkers who make possible the food we share this holiday."

The CIW frames the video in terms of its ongoing campaign to bring Florida's wealthiest company, Publix (a Fortune 500 member with over $25 billion in revenue last year), into the Fair Food Program. But Publix is hardly alone in turning its back on what has developed into the most exciting progress for farmworkers in over a generation. In fact, the vast majority of supermarket companies—including Kroger, Stop & Shop, Giant, and Safeway—have refused to join the program, continuing to choose profits over the people whose backbreaking, undervalued labor makes their profits possible.

The Fair Food Program is a groundbreaking partnership among farmworkers, growers, retail purchasers, and consumers in which participating buyers agree to: 1) pay a penny more per pound for Florida tomatoes to improve farmworkers' sub-poverty wages and 2) to only buy from growers who comply with the CIW's Fair Food Code of Conduct. Through a twelve-year long campaign, the CIW has successfully convinced eleven multi-billion dollar retail food corporations—including fast-food giants McDonald's, Burger King and Subway and grocery chains Whole Foods and Trader Joe's—to join the program. That market power has helped raise farmworkers' wages—with over $8 million in Fair Food bonus funds flowing through the program since January of 2011 alone—and establish important new rights for workers, eliminating abuses from sexual harassment to slavery in Florida's fields.

The program has won important changes for workers, and has received impressive support from veteran observers of the food industry along the way. Eric Schlosser, the author of the best seller Fast Food Nation, told me on the eve of the CIW's victory in the Burger King campaign back in 2008:

This may be the most important victory for American farmworkers since passage of California's Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 1975. That bill heralded a golden age for farm workers. But the state government apparatus it created, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, got taken over by the growers in the 1980s and watered down the reforms. In Florida, the Coalition has chosen a different path, avoiding government and putting pressure on the corporations at the top of nation's food chain. The strategy clearly works and can be emulated by other workers in other states. In the absence of a government that cares about the people at the bottom, here's a way to achieve change.

But without the supermarkets' support, the CIW's ability to deepen and institutionalize the changes it has begun to make will be blunted. So this holiday season, help make farmworker poverty and abuse history. Click here to sign the petition and, in the words of Immokalee's courageous farmworker movement, "ask Publix CEO Ed Crenshaw to ensure that his company be part of a proven model to address the root cause of farmworker poverty across Florida, and demonstrate that it values the hard work of farmworkers who make possible the food we share this holiday."

From farmworkers to warehouse employees, low-wage workers across the U.S. are fighting back against corporate America. Find out more about the movement here

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