New report from Harvard Law School Center for Labor and a Just Economy: “With WSR, workers define and claim their human rights to fair pay, freedom from abuse, safe working conditions, and dignity due to all who work hard. Workers drive and inform the design of WSR programs, and the market ensures the enforcement of the standards and requirements. WSR has proven its effectiveness within the United States and internationally.”
“There’s been a transformation in its tomato fields and in the tomato farms up the eastern seaboard. Thanks to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and its Fair Food Program, the abuse that has been a constant for more than 300 years of U.S. agricultural history has been eliminated.”
Thirty years ago, farmwork in Immokalee was laden with abuse at virtually every turn. Violent farm bosses, sexual harassment and assault at the hands of crew leaders and co-workers alike, long hours of back-breaking labor in oppressive heat, stolen wages, and generations of toiling in the fields for poverty wages at long-stagnant piece rates. At its worst, the exploitation and abuse tipped over into modern-day slavery, men and women forced to work against their will under the threat -- and, all too often, the use -- of violence.
Back then, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers was a loose collective of farmworkers gathering weekly in a local church to discuss the hardships they faced, seeking to understand the roots of their troubles and envisioning a more modern, more humane agricultural industry, one where their voices as workers were heard and their dignity and human rights respected in the fields. Now, thirty years on, the CIW is a trusted, proven leader in the global human rights movement, its members the authors -- through years of hard-fought struggle -- of a powerful new model for empowering low-wage workers to safeguard their own rights at work, not just in the tomato fields of Immokalee where the model was born, but across the country and around the world. The Fair Food Program, the human rights program pioneered by the CIW, and the model it gave rise to, the Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) model, are lauded today as the new paradigm for protecting workers’ rights in corporate supply chains in the 21st century, and worker-led groups are busy adapting it to secure their own basic human rights in low-wage industries running the gamut from textiles to fishing, from construction to cut flowers.
A new report released last week by the Clean Slate for Worker Power Project, an initiative of Harvard Law School’s Center for Labor and a Just Economy (CLJE), tells the story of how Immokalee’s fields were transformed from “ground zero for modern-day slavery” to the “best workplace environment in U.S. agriculture,” and how, in turn, the broader WSR model grew into a driving force for human rights in an increasingly globalized economy.
The author of the report, Susan Marquis, is also the author of I Am Not a Tractor!: How Florida Farmworkers Took On the Fast Food Giants and Won, the definitive history of the CIW which tells the story of the Immokalee workers’ early organizing efforts and the birth of the Presidential-medal winning Fair Food Program.
Summarizing the report, Yoorie Chang, the Project Manager for the Clean Slate for Worker Power Project at Harvard Law School’s Center for Labor and a Just Economy, writes:
“In response to the increased attention around human rights abuses facing low-wage workers around the globe, we have seen the emergence of myriad solutions within the social responsibility sector, including corporate social responsibility campaigns, multi-stakeholder initiatives, and transparency legislation. But among many such approaches to addressing workers’ rights violations, one program has stood out. The worker-driven social responsibility (WSR) approach, first championed by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in the tomato fields of Florida, has garnered acclaim for its successes in mitigating abuses within the agricultural and other low-wage production sectors. In the latest report from the Clean Slate for Worker Power project, Susan L. Marquis highlights the origins of WSR, how it’s been effective, and the promising implications of its application in sectors and industries beyond agriculture.”
The CLJE report, which you can find here, is well worth taking the time to read in-full. We have excerpted a few passages below to give you a sense of the Ms. Marquis’s analysis and the report’s central thesis. To read those excerpts, click “Read More” below!