Fresh Market Agrees to Step Up for Farmworkers

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In a show of support for human rights and fair labor, the Fresh Market has signed a Fair Food Agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW).

This means the grocery chain will buy a larger percentage of stock from Florida tomato growers that abide by the Fair Food Program's (FFP) human rights standards. Fresh Market will also financially back FFP's efforts to improve working conditions in the agricultural industry.

The North Carolina-based corporation is the 13th to join the program, after chains like Subway, Whole Foods, Walmart, and Trader Joe's.

See also: Immokalee Farmworkers Begin 14-Day March, Pinpoint Publix

According to Greg Asbed of the CIW, the Fresh Market approached them with an interest in joining the FFP. Soon after, they were able to come to an agreement.

As part of its participation, the Fresh Market will increase purchases 15 percent year-over-year from Florida tomato growers that are part of the FFP. This includes paying a penny-per-pound product premium, which is then passed on to workers as a line-item bonus.

"We're always looking for ways to provide our shoppers with the best quality products possible," says Lee Arthur, The Fresh Market's merchandising vice president. "By partnering with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and opting into the Fair Food Program, our shoppers can feel good about the purchasing decisions they make at our stores, and we in turn can feel good about the products we're putting on our shelves. We believe supporting fair wage and treatment is the right thing to do and that ultimately better pay leads to higher quality product."

In addition to increasing their purchase percentage, The Fresh Market will make an annual contribution to support the Fair Food Standards Council (FFSC), a group that oversees compliance with the Fair Food Program's human rights standards. The group investigates workers' complaints, audits farms for compliance with the Fair Food Code of Conduct, and enforces the FFP's standards.

"For consumers, when they buy tomatoes at a participating Fair Food Program retailer, it means they can be sure the tomatoes were picked by workers whose human rights are protected by what labor experts have called 'the best workplace-monitoring program in the U.S. today,'" Asbed explains.

"Indeed, the FFP is a worker-driven social responsibility program, which means it is a novel approach to defending human rights designed, monitored, and enforced by the very workers whose rights it is intended to protect. The FFP is a 21st-century social responsibility program for the 21st-century supermarket. This is particularly important today in the wake of last month's LA Times investigative series that discovered truly disturbing labor conditions in Mexico's fields, with rampant child labor, debt servitude, and humiliating working and living conditions. Consumers looking to support modern labor rights now have a clear choice."

Other companies that are part of the FFP include Chipotle, Aramark, McDonald's, and Burger King. Publix has not opted into the FFP, and the CIW has been leading protests against the supermarket chain for years.

Up next for the CIW is a plan to expand the FFP to crops beyond tomatoes and to states besides Florida.

"By this summer, the program should be in the initial stages of implementation in at least one other crop and in states along the Eastern seaboard, where Florida-based farms grow tomatoes during the summer season," Asbed says.

Follow Hannah on Twitter @hannahgetshappy.

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