Many big American chains have already joined the Fair Food Program
, a binding agreement between the Florida Tomato Growers association and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Its purpose is to guarantee better payments and acceptable work conditions to the workers in the fields, eliminating critical situations that can even include sexual violence.
The partnership between workers, property owners and buyers is supervised by the Fair Food Standards Council (FFSC).
Taco Bell and Walmart are some of the big companies that have already subscribed, accepting to pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes that come from the agricultural enterprises which respect the CIW program. Laura Safer Espinoza, former judge of the Supreme Court of New York, is the director of the Fair Food Standards Council. And she states: "I feel it is an honor, a privilege, to be part of a moment in history in which buyers, property owners and workers come together to correct a historical injustice. How many people can say the same thing, in their lifetime?"
One of the vehicles of the Fair Food Program is education. What are the conditions that prompt the initiative?
We start from the fact that today many workers in the fields are still not educated, or even literate. Through our program, with information and videos that describe what should happen in agricultural companies, we help to raise the workers’ awareness about their rights. Cooperating with various associations that help us to monitor the situation of the farmers is also important for us. Everybody needs to know that there is a program that can help put an end to abuse, and when we receive reports about what is happening, this means that people have become aware.
The fact that critical situations have also been indentifed in a State like Florida, in communities of immigrants from Latin America might seem surprising...
And not only in the wealthy state of Florida, with its beautiful beaches. Our program is expanding to other States of the US. Our commitment is now above all to beat human trafficking, again by adopting an approach that aims to eliminate abuse. This approach has in some cases resulted in the confiscation of the lands from the owners responsible for this abuse.
How is the Fair Food Program structured, how does it work?
I have had direct experience of women and men who cultivate the food we eat but who, for various circumstantial reasons, are unable to sustain themselves or their family, even if they are surrounded by food all day. This is why the Fair Food Program was created, and it is structured to enable the buyers of agricultural products, including no less than thirteen of the major corporations, to buy only from agricultural companies that respect a behavioral code in relation to basic civil rights and minimum wages. Even by paying one penny per pound more, no less than 20 million dollars have been given to those who cultivate the land, in order to let them provide food for their families.
What thoughts are raised by a convention like this one by Valore D, the Women's Forum Italy 2015, where the themes are food, energy, equality, with many other concrete projects?
Being familiar with the conditions in which food is produced is as important as having it; and as important as ensuring that there is enough for everyone. Considering the role that women already have as mothers, teachers, wives, it is no surprise that here in Milan so many of them have come together, with decision-making roles, capable of making new decisions.
Emma Bonino has talked about the diversity of women as a source of energy. What have you learned about the strength of women, in your job as a judge for more than twenty years, that could be useful for the new generations?
What I could say to young women is not to stop at titles and labels, but to follow your own mind and passion. It has never been a problem for me to go personally into the fields to verify in person the conditions of the workers, among strain and discomfort, because thanks to my association I could help them recover their dignity. One of the best things I remember is when I would meet the children of the people we were helping… I can say this, invest in what you believe in.
This meeting takes place as part of the Women’s Weeks organized by WE-Women for Expo. Is this program the right way to create a valuable heritage also for future Universal Expositions?
Yes, I believe that it is. I think that when women unite, they transmit respect, energy, they introduce a new way of seeing things. I think that it would be marvelous to see this also in the future Expositions. I have seen women working in the fields, women who have experienced a past of rape, suffering and negation of civil rights, and who are now able to claim their right to life and to dignity. I think that my version of what I have seen, and the versions of the other speakers who joined me in taking to the stage, are the voices the world needs to hear.
It seems as if your appeal also goes beyond the theme of food.
Absolutely. On every front of social justice women are in the front line.