Farm Workers and Fair Food, with "Food Chains" Director Sanjay Rawal

Filmmaker
Filmmaker Sanjay Rawal discusses Food Chains, his new documentary investigating the supermarket industry and the plight of farm workers in the United States.
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Sanjay Rawal: So, for 300 years in this country there was really no such thing as fair food, meaning that there was no way to recognize, from a consumer's purchases, that workers were treated well. In the '30s '40s and '50s a movement started in California lead eventually by Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez that morphed into the United Farmworkers Union. And people of a certain age, my age and above, can remember not eating grapes or lettuce in the '70s because of the nationwide boycotts against produce that wasn't picked fairly, that wasn't picked in those days by union members. Now unions have been decimated all across the country. In the '80s and '90s most of the union protections that were won by farmworkers were rolled back. Farmworkers have two things against them. Number one, in many states most workers can't unionize without the fear of losing their job. In Florida for example it's a right to work state, which means euphemistically that if you decide to unionize your employer can fire you just for that. California for example they can't fire you because you're trying to organize a union.

Secondly, according to the National Labor Standards Act that was set in 1938 by F.D.R. that set the minimum wage requirements for workers all across the country, farm workers were the exception. Farmworkers and domestic workers were predominantly African-American. And in order for F.D.R. to pass that bill he needed the support of the southern democrats who refused to let their African-Americans have the same rights that workers all across the nation we're having. So farmworkers and domestic workers were excluded from that. So fast-forward to the present day and age. There are no unions, farmworkers aren't really protected by national labor laws, they definitely aren't entitled to overtime. And what that means is that for a consumer who's asking themselves is my food fair, the answer 99.99999 percent of the time is either no or there's no way to tell. My film Food Chains focuses on one small group of workers from Central Florida, Southern Florida really called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Immokalee is a Native American word, which means our home. And it's a little tiny labor camp in Southern Florida right next to Naples. And I call it a labor camp because it's got a wintertime population of 40,000 people when the harvest is in full swing. But there's no City Council, there's no Mayor, there's no real infrastructure in that city and it's only 15 miles away from the richest ZIP Code in America, Naples. So Immokalee is a labor camp. And in that little labor camp some of the worst atrocities in this country have happened from modern-day slavery to sexual harassment to really horrific, horrific crimes in the field. But a little group called the CIW, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, created a program called the Fair Food Program. And that Fair Food Program is really the only program in the United States that absolutely guarantees that workers in the field earn more than sub poverty level wages and are entitled to a complete spectrum of human rights guarantees.

They've gotten 12 major retailers to sign onto that program. And what that means in simple terms is that if you go to Walmart, or Whole foods, Trader Joe's, if you eat at almost any fast food restaurant in America, except Wendy's, in the winter time most likely your tomato is from that program. It's a Fair Food Tomato. So if you want to eat fair you can go to Whole Foods, you can go to Walmart surprisingly, you can go to Trader Joe's and buy their Florida tomatoes. That's the only product in the entire United States that's absolutely guaranteed without a doubt to be fair labor.

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton