This space is dedicated to the proposition that we need to know the history of the struggles on the left and of earlier progressive movements here and world-wide. If we can learn from the mistakes made in the past (as well as what went right) we can move forward in the future to create a more just and equitable society. We will be reviewing books, CDs, and movies we believe everyone needs to read, hear and look at as well as making commentary from time to time. Greg Green, site manager
Saturday, December 29, 2018
One of the “inconceivable moon shots of their day…” (Harvard Business Review, 2017) Coalition of Immokalee Workers
One of the “inconceivable moon shots of their day…” (Harvard Business Review, 2017)
In 2017, just one year shy of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ 25th Anniversary, theHarvard Business Review named the Fair Food Program one of the “inconceivable moon shots of its day,” in a sweeping report on 15 of the “most important social impact success stories of the past century,” alongside car seats, Sesame Street, and the cure for polio.
Being included in a list like that, in one of the nation’s leading business publications, was deeply humbling. But it was also the product of 25 years of analysis, action, and evaluation; of building consciousness and commitment; and of tireless struggle to build – together with all of you – what has today become a new paradigm for protecting workers’ fundamental human rights, one that is ending centuries of exploitation.
We need your support for a bold vision – a moon shot vision, perhaps – of a human rights revolution through the expansion of this remarkable new model in corporate supply chains around the globe… just like we needed it 17 years ago, when we launched the Campaign for Fair Food.
The birth of a new paradigm:
In 2001, we took what was arguably the most creative, fearless step in our history: we announced the Taco Bell Boycott. Hauling a massive papier-mâché tomato out to a Taco Bell restaurant on Highway 41 in Fort Myers, Florida, a small, unknown group of farmworkers and their very first consumer allies hoisted hand-painted signs, declaring: “Taco Bell makes farmworkers poor.”
That moment represented a momentous pivot. For the past decade, we had been toiling tirelessly on two fronts. On the one front, we were organizing strikes, marches, and hunger strikes in Immokalee, calling for dialogue with Florida’s growers to demand safer, more dignified conditions in the fields. On the other, we were traveling the states of the East Coast migrant stream, unearthing the hidden scourge of modern-day slavery and putting over a dozen farm bosses behind bars. But we realized that even these tireless efforts were not enough. We learned that powerful growers could always holdout longer than impoverished workers on strike. And we learned that successful slavery prosecutions — groundbreaking though they might be — didn’t actually constitute success in the fight against forced labor and exploitation. For every slavery operation we broke up, another quickly popped up behind it, and tomatoes picked by enslaved workers continued to end up on the shelf at your local supermarket. Farm bosses went to prison, but the market never even blinked.
These facts pushed us to re-evaluate our approach, and through this constant process of analysis in Immokalee, a new theory of change emerged: The real power driving the poverty and abuse in the fields wasn’t the farm bosses or even the farmers, it was the massive retail food corporations at the top of the food market. Those companies — fast-food giants, national supermarket chains, and international food-service companies — bought tomatoes with the combined purchasing power of tens of thousands of stores, and with that unprecedented purchasing power, they were able to drive down produce prices at the farm gate year after year. Farmers, in turn, cut their costs, just to stay in business, and the cuts to farmworker wages and working conditions were inevitably the first cuts, and the deepest.
In other words, “Taco Bell makes farmworkers poor.” And if we were going to bring about the change we so desperately needed, rather than fight with farmers over a shrinking slice of the pie, we were going to have to make common cause with consumers to demand an entirely new kind of food — Fair Food.
An inconceivable moon shot, indeed.
In launching the Campaign for Fair Food on the side of Highway 41 in Ft. Myers that day in 2001, we broke important new ground in the global human rights movement. And as we have proven over the ensuing 17 years, that audacious new theory of change works. Because consumers of conscience chose to stand with farmworkers in front of a Taco Bell in 2001 — pouring their faith, time and energy into the vision farmworkers held for the future — we were able to win agreements with 14 of the world’s largest retailers. And with those agreements, in 2011 we established the pioneering Fair Food Program, harnessing the food giants’ immense purchasing power to improve, rather than impoverish, the lives of tens of thousands of farmworkers.
Now, in 2018, we are showing that this model for change can not only forever improve the lives of farmworkers here in the United States – but of millions of workers worldwide.