For the past 16 months, thousands of students protested across college and university campuses, demanding the food service industry cease what some call an indirect support of slavery.
On Aug. 23 their demands were met when Sodexo became the fourth leading food service provider and ninth corporation overall to sign the CIW Fair Food Agreement.
“We are an organization in solidarity with farm workers, actively seeking to put an end to abusive labor practices,” said Meghan Cohorst, national co-coordinator of the Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA). “Our goal is to get companies to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) by rallying students to promote social change.”
The agreement establishes a new partnership between CIW and Sodexo to improve farm worker wages and working conditions in the tomato fields of Florida.
Sodexo will pay a 1.5-cent premium for every pound of Florida tomatoes purchased, with the funds going straight to the tomato harvesters.
“SFA was the driving force behind bringing the food service providers to the table,” said Cohorst. “The success of this campaign is a real testament to the power that students have to really change these company’s practices, and let them know that they have a voice and can make a difference.”
The agreement also puts into place a strict Florida tomato supplier code of conduct, specifically developed with input from farm workers, in order to uphold human rights within the U.S. agricultural industry.
With this zero tolerance policy for forced labor, Sodexo along with other CIW partner companies, including McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway, will be steered away from tomato growers who are associated with the latest slavery prosecution in Florida.
“Sodexo is committed to protecting and upholding the rights of all workers, whether employed directly by us or by our business partners and suppliers,” said Arlin Wasserman, Sodexo vice president for sustainability and corporate social responsibility.
By enlisting the market power of major corporations like Sodexo, the SFA and CIW are able to demand more humane labor standards from tomato suppliers.
“Together with Sodexo and our other partners, we are building a system of real accountability with tangible consequences for growers who fail to protect farm workers’ basic rights,” said CIW Co-Director Lucas Benitez in a press release.
SFA is working on a new campaign, bringing its fight for fair food to the supermarket industry.
Grocery chains such as Publix, Kroger, Wal-Mart and Trader Joes are among the companies that have also been asked to sign the CIW Fair Food Agreement.
“Supermarkets are the next largest buyers of Florida tomatoes and therefore the next step for SFA,” Cohorst said. “We plan to engage these companies and persuade them to adopt fair food practices so workers can receive dignified wages.”
With the construction of a Trader Joes in Davis underway, the SFA Davis team is already organizing its members to call upon the UC Davis student body to help voice its message.
“Students don’t necessarily have to join SFA to be heard,” said Cohorst. “They can print manager letters and postcards from the CIW website and bring them into Trader Joes themselves. The important thing is that we stand united in our push for fair food practices.”
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