More and more Americans are asking questions about where their food comes from, but few go so far as to think about who picked it, and under what conditions.
Few Americans are aware that the 1.4 million crop farmworkers who plant, harvest, and pack the food grown throughout the United States are excluded from the basic labor and safety standards upheld in other employment sectors. Likewise, many people would be shocked to learn that farm work has lenient child labor restrictions and little or no overtime limits, collective bargaining rights, or workers’ compensation insurance, although agriculture is considered to be one of the most hazardous industries in the U.S. Even the few rules that do exist for farmworkers are rarely enforced.
At Bon Appétit Management Company, we believe that farmworkers should not only be recognized for their contribution to our food system, but enjoy the same rights and protections as employees in other occupations.
What Bon Appétit is doing
Protecting tomato pickers in Florida
In the vast tomato fields of south Florida, farmworkers are exploited and abused, to the extent that one federal prosecutor called Florida “ground zero for modern-day slavery.” In 2009, Bon Appétit executives and chefs visited Immokalee, FL, and witnessed these deplorable conditions firsthand. We were the first food service company to partner with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a farmworker organization with whom we forged a new agreement that frames acceptable working conditions and enforces those conditions with a strict code of conduct for tomato growers.
Educating consumers about conditions for farmworkers
- The Inventory of Farmworker Issues and Protections in the United States: In March 2011 the Bon Appétit Management Company Foundation and United Farm Workers of America, with support from Oxfam America, released a groundbreaking report detailing the lack of laws and protections for crop farmworkers in the U.S. The report has become required reading in many university and law-school classrooms, and we were honored with the 2011 Cruz Reynoso-Ralph Abascal Don Quixote Award from California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA) for our efforts.
- TEDxFruitvale: Harvesting Change: In October 2011, the BAMCO Foundation hosted a special conference that focused on farmworkers and labor movements. The speakers included farmworkers, farmers, activists, artists, students, professors, filmmakers, and entrepreneurs, and the live webcast was watched by groups all around the country. The 23 videos are available on YouTube.
- Farmworker Awareness Week / National Food Day: Every year, our cafés that observe these March and October events spotlight farmworker issues with guest activities and educational materials. (See what some students thought.)
Empowering farmworkers and setting standards
We are proud to be an early member of the Equitable Food Initiative, a unique partnership among businesses and advocacy groups that have come together to develop standards, training processes, and a certification to protect farmworkers and produce safer, healthier food. (Read the New York Times story about EFI.)
- Equitable Food Initiative
- CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food
- Food Chains documentary
- Tomatoland, by Barry Estabrook
- Farmworker Awareness Week
- TEDxFruitvale speakers on YouTube
- Inventory of Farmworker Issues and Protections in the United States report (PDF)