Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
August 21, 2012 9:40 am
Farmworkers are among the most precarious workers in the nation. Most farmworkers earn less than living wage, face high instances of unsafe working conditions, and are constantly exposed to dangerous pesticides on the job. About 42% of the the 1.6 million U.S. farmworkers are migrant workers who lack basic employment benefits and often live in poverty. In California, reports of labor practices leading to heat related deaths and alleged sexual assault hamper the industry.
What is an ethical consumer to do? How can a produce buyer ensure they are not supporting an abusive workplace?
The Agricultural Justice Project is attempting to gain traction with its Food Justice label, which will utilize yearly audits to ensure consumers of the ethical provenance of their food. The Peninsula Press has a full report:
…[T]he movement toward food justice is growing. In the next two years, Swanton Berry Farm and Pie Ranch will be two of the first California farms to carry the Food Justice label. This label guarantees a farm’s commitment to fair living wages for workers, adequate living and working conditions, and fair contracts with buyers, among other things.
In some ways, the Food Justice label is similar to the Fair Trade label, which certifies that international farmers receive fair wages for their crops, like coffee and chocolate. But the Food Justice certification focuses on farm workers’ rights in North America, rather than on a global level. Wages are only one component of the fair labor practices Food Justice certifiers consider.
The Food Justice label sends a positive message to consumers and the people farms work with, said Sally Lee, who serves on the management committee of the Agricultural Justice Project, a partnership of four nonprofits that is pioneering the Food Justice Certification. “[The label] allows consumers to communicate farther up the chain, because you can’t necessarily see the farm, but you can see the label,” Lee said. By buying Food Justice certified foods, shoppers can vote with their dollars in support of fair worker treatment.
Five US farms and a grower group of 70 Canadian farms have signed up for Food Justice certification, but the Agricultural Justice Project (AJP) has a long way to go. For now, the costly Food Justice certification can be seen as a voluntary labor of love on the part of farm owners. The AJP hopes that publicity efforts coupled with a growing ethical consumerism movement will eventually allow the certification to make fiscal sense.
The fair trade movement has made massive gains in recent years – it stands to reason that consumers can be convinced to support humane working conditions with their grocery dollars.
Image from here