Farmworkers, Consumers to Protest Trader Joe's Demanding Fair Farm Labor Standards

Feb 24, 2011, 20:11 ET from Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Pressure mounts for fast-growing chain to sign Fair Food agreement with Coalition of Immokalee Workers in light of historic breakthrough with Florida tomato growers

IMMOKALEE, Fla., Feb. 24, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On Monday, February 28th at 1 o'clock, a busload of farmworkers from Florida – the men and women who pick the tomatoes New Yorkers eat from October to May every year – will be joined by students and community activists at Trader Joe's Upper West Side store (72nd & Broadway), where they will rally to demand that the supermarket chain join a growing partnership among farmworkers, Florida tomato growers, and retail food giants aimed at ending decades of farm labor abuse in Florida. The "Be a Fair Trader, Joe!" protest is part of a week-long tour encouraging supermarket chains that buy Florida tomatoes to "Do the Right Thing!"

"We pick New York's tomatoes, and for years those tomatoes have been harvested in Florida's fields under unimaginably harsh conditions," said Leonel Perez of the CIW. "Today, however, we are finally beginning to see the first glimmers of more humane treatment at work, thanks to the Campaign for Fair Food. But Trader Joe's is standing in the way of progress."

"What's even worse," Perez continued, "is Trader Joe's insistence that it ethically sources its tomatoes. Certainly, if Trader Joe's were claiming to sell Fair Trade coffee while refusing to pay the Fair Trade premium and instead paying the straight market price, consumers would be justifiably outraged. Fair Trade standards – including better wages and working conditions for the people who pick the coffee – are not without cost, and the Fair Trade premium is essential to making those improved conditions possible. For more and more consumers shopping at Trader Joe's, claiming to sell ethically-sourced tomatoes from Florida while refusing to pay the Fair Food premium and instead paying the straight market price is likewise unacceptable."

Background: Florida farmworkers have long faced brutal conditions in the fields, including sub-poverty wages, widespread labor rights violations, and even modern-day slavery. Today, however, there is hope on the horizon, thanks to the efforts of farmworkers, Fair Food activists, Florida tomato growers, and nine food industry leaders (including Trader Joe's competitor Whole Foods) who have joined in support of the CIW's Fair Food principles, including a penny-per-pound wage increase, a strict code of conduct, a cooperative complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process.

In November, the CIW and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE) signed an agreement to extend these principles to over 90% of Florida's tomato fields. And though the implementation of that agreement is being phased in gradually over the course of this season and the next, many concrete changes have already taken root on some of the state's largest farms. Trader Joe's, however, is refusing to do its part, and if they have their way, the unprecedented farm labor transformation promised by the CIW's landmark agreement with the FTGE would be significantly diminished.

About the Coalition of Immokalee Workers: The CIW ( is a community-based farmworker organization headquartered in Immokalee, Florida, with over 4,000 members. The CIW seeks modern working conditions for farmworkers and promotes their fair treatment in accordance with national and international human rights standards. The CIW's Campaign for Fair Food has won unprecedented support for fundamental farm labor reforms from retail food industry leaders.

SOURCE Coalition of Immokalee Workers