The Power of Tomatoes
In today’s society we are constantly reminded to be and become more sustainable. There are many areas in which we can do this, like knowing where your products origin from and buying local. But that is about as far as we think.
But there is much more to it, what about the process of how the product gets from the fields to your grocery store, what is the price to pay? And who pays this price?
There is an incredible interest in food these days, but there is only little interest in the hands that pick it. In America, farmworkers, the foundation of our fresh food industry are being routinely abused and robbed of wages. In extreme cases they can be beaten, sexually harassed or even enslaved, all within the borders of the United States. Farmers and large corporations simply take advantage of the desperate positons many people are in.
The movie, Food Chains reveals the human costs in our food supply and the complicity of large buyers of produce like fast food chains and supermarkets. Fast food chains are big, but supermarkets are bigger – earning $4 trillion globally and having tremendous power over the agricultural system. Over the past three decades they have drained revenue from their supply chain leaving farmworkers in poverty, forced to work under subhuman conditions. Yet many take no responsibility nor action to improve the working condition of farmworkers.
There is a group of tomato pickers from Southern Florida that have formed a coalition – The Coalition of Immokalee Workers or CIW, to revolutionize farm labor. Their story is the one of hope and promise for the triumph or morality over corporate greed- to ensure a dignified life for farm workers and a more humane, transparent food chain. This is an issue that has been discussed over decades and highlighted in many ways. Author Barry Estabrook has written a book about the matter called Tomoatoland based on his award winning article “The Price of Tomatoes”
In the movie, you get to follow a few Mexican farmworkers and members of the CIW in their daily life and battle against the corporations. This problem dates back to slavery. Farmworkers are generally paid by the pieces rather than strictly by the hour, a system that is a direct legacy of slavery. Forced to work at a brutal place in order to earn the equivalence of minimum wage, farmworkers live well below the poverty line. An average farmworker earns about $12.000 a year providing the goods that enable large retailers to make billions in annual profits. On top of these unacceptable conditions it is estimated that 80% of the female farmworkers experience sexual harassment in the fields.
In the most extreme cases farmworkers have been held in debt bondage or modern-day slavery. These are not rare occurrences, but rather a by-product of an agricultural system that relies on the desperately poor. When one is living in poverty, the loss of a job can have a brutal effect. It is this poverty that can place farmworkers in unpredictable situations that can lead to modern-day slavery. CIW has developed a remarkable program to end poverty and exploitation in the tomato fields of Florida. The Fair Food Program asks large retailers like supermarkets and fast food chains to pay just a penny more per pound of tomatoes and refuse to buy tomatoes from farms with human right violations.
Today, twelve major retailers have signed on including, Walmart, Trader Joes, McDonalds, Chipotle, Burger King, Aramark, Compass Group, Sodexo and Subway among others. But still, there are a number of retailers who have resisted signing this landmark agreement including Publix, Kroger, Safeway and Wendy’s. Their forceful stand against the dignity and rights of farmworkers are shameful. Their greed is what is in the way of solving this issue, their loss in profit is relatively small price to pay to make a big difference in the lives of the farmworkers.
SD Trading takes a stand for this, we believe sustainability and the future of our planet is about more than saving the environment, it is just as important to care for each other and work together, meaning respecting one another and not taking advantage of other people’s situation. Fair trade and the conditions people work under also play a big role in the preservation of our planet.