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Farmworker: “[You should know that] your tomato was picked with dignity”

Interview by Adam Gottlieb  |  Issue: July 2017

Adam Gottlieb from the People’s Tribune/Tribuno del Pueblo interviewed Lucas Benitez, co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (C.I.W.) on March 22 about the purpose of the #BoycottWendys campaign to pressure Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program (FFP).

CHICAGO, IL – Physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual harassment toward women – that was the daily bread for farm workers. The FFP has been able to bring an end to those abuses, to really prevent them. For the first time we have market consequences in place for people who commit abuses in the fields, and there are rights that are being protected as a result.

Most importantly, we have health and safety committees that workers formed. This is one of the ways in which workers are the monitors of their own rights; they are the investigators, and they are the people moving forward to ensure that their rights are protected – their own bosses.

…The reason we are calling this a Human-Rights-focused tour is because when we say “Human Rights,” we often don’t think about the U.S. We think of other countries: Mexico, Guatemala, countries in Asia, in Africa, but never really reflect on human rights abuses here. And we think it’s important to start building a human rights movement in this country. The “Return To Human Rights Tour” is meant to shift the focus onto human rights in this country. Because, though we might not think of it, workers in agriculture and many industries are still suffering human rights violations. And these are the very workers that bring food to our tables. So it’s really important to reflect on the realities in our country and use this frame of returning to human rights to shed the spotlight on human rights here and build the movement to make that a reality.

When Wendy’s comes to the table, it’s not just a signature that they put on paper. That’s when the bulk of the work starts to be done, because Wendy’s then becomes a critical partner in insuring the human rights of farmworkers and seeing how they can implement these changes in a real way in their supply chain, and we work together with them for that. And the campaign for fair food will continue. With Wendy’s participating, there are still many other super market chains, many other food retailers that aren’t yet taking responsibility. For example, in Florida, we have

Publix supermarkets, which for 7 years has refused to join the program… And there are many more corporations that have still not joined the Fair Food Program. So we have a long road ahead of us…

At the end of the day, this is a campaign of winning, winning, and more winning. It’s a program in which workers win, in which growers win, and in which corporations win, because they now know that they are selling tomatoes in which workers were not in sweatshop conditions, in which workers were respected. And consumers themselves know that their tomato was picked with dignity, that it was picked by a worker who was respected, and that it was picked here in the U.S.

Every time somebody sits down to eat, they should think of the person who brought that food to their table: a person who worked really hard, whose work is very challenging, but who did their work with pride.

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