Trader Joe's signs agreement in labor victory

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Trader Joe’s, known for being really more of a snack emporium than a grocery store, can now be known for something else; buying tomatoes picked by people with basic human rights.

Feb. 9, it became the second grocery store chain-- the first was Whole Foods-- to sign an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a group based in Immokalee, Florida famous for its successful Fair Food campaign.

By signing a Fair Food agreement with the CIW, Trader Joe's pledged to buy their Florida tomatoes only from companies that comply with the CIW’s list of working conditions. According to Bay Area CIW solidarity organizer Liz Fitzgerald, a 23-year-old San Francisco resident, the "code of conduct" includes “zero tolerance for sexual harassment or modern day slavery, having places where farmworkers can wash their hands, basic human rights like that.

The agreement also includes an increase in price for tomatoes—one penny per pound—to augment workers salaries.

Its just pennies, and its only tomatoes. But the Fair Food Campaign is one of the most successful farmworkers rights efforts in past decades, and seems to be growing stronger still.

Acitivists in Florida teamed up with allies across the country for the two-year campaign it took to win over Trader Joe’s, mainly consisting of protests and educational campaigns complementing behind-the-scenes meetings. The efforts targeting Trader Joe’s were amicable compared to their first campaign, aimed at Taco Bell, when begin in 2001. Then, the CIW led a nationwide boycott of the fast food chain and a “Boot the Bell” effort to get Taco Bells off college campuses. Taco Bell finally agreed to sign the agreement after four years of pressure.

Since then, the Fair Food Agreement has gained an impressive list of adherents. After Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King, and Subway signed on. In April 2009, CIW made a deal with Compass Group, the world’s largest contract food service provider. Industry giants Bon Appetit Management Company, Aramark, and Sodexo have also signed on to the agreement.

“The goal of the Fair Food Program is to promote the development of a sustainable Florida tomato industry that advances both the human rights of farmworkers and the long-term interests of Florida tomato growers,” according to a joint CIW-Trader Joe’s press release.
Fitzgerald says that, after two years organizing on the steering committee of the Bay Area’s Student-Farmworker alliance (highlights include a Lady Gaga impersonation during a flash mob-style protest last year), she is eager to keep up the fight.

“Its incredible because this is one of so many victories…CIW, along with allies, we are an unstoppable force. This makes me want to not stop until we change this entire agricultural system that’s so exploitative,” said Fitzgerald.

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