This is Farmworker Awareness Week but how many of us are aware of the critical role of farmworkers much less aware that there’s even a week dedicated to them? We eat 280 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables a day—from supermarkets, restaurants, cafeterias and fast food establishments. And all of it is picked by hand.
Ironically these workers are among the most abused and poorly paid people in the nation. As longterm farmworker advocate Eva Longoria says, “This is not an immigration issue. This is a human rights issue.”
“… farm workers face abuses from verbal threats to physical violence and modern-day slavery. There are more than 10,000 slaves working in the fields in the United States Today…raising wages will end exploitation, the cost: in some cases, just a penny more per pound…” quoted from FOOD CHAINS
Farmworkers, whether documented or not, aren’t protected by the same labor laws as the rest of us are. They are also paid by how much they pick which pits workers against each other to harvest more than one another—in the heat and without regular water breaks.
Worse, the power dynamic in the fields is akin to that of a master and serf. Workers are too intimidated to complain when their rights are violated. Women can be raped and are regularly harassed. In the worst cases, workers have actually been enslaved: working for no pay and under the threat of beatings or death.
The undercarriage of our magnificent food production system, second to none, is rusted and decayed. The system is fueled by inequity and fear.
But it doesn’t have to be.
A valiant group of tomato pickers from southern Florida, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has successfully fought multibillion dollar retailers to use their power to change the system. These companies, like Taco Bell, Trader Joes and McDonalds, now use market pressure to ensure that conditions on farms in Florida at least are safe, human and dignified. They also pay an extra penny per pound of tomatoes, which amazingly doubles the wages of workers.
This week, let’s take a moment to reflect on the hands that feed us, to recognize the contribution of farmworkers to our well-being, and to recognize that that which sustains us leads to their abuse. And that we can change this. Support farmworkers rights and groups like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. They are fighting to ensure their future, which, is, in fact, our future.
Sanjay Rawal is the director of an upcoming documentary FOOD CHAINS