This is part of a series on "The Future of Fair Trade," written with the support of Fair Trade USA. A 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization, Fair Trade USA is the leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States. To follow along with the rest of the series, click here.
By Jenna Larson
It’s National Farmworker Awareness Week, a time to remember that 85 percent of the fruits and vegetables we eat here in the U.S. are hand-picked. That’s right -- the healthy veggies for our healthy lifestyles, sweet fruits for snack-time and even the flowers that brighten our tables. Farmworkers across the globe are out in the fields from dawn to dusk, working hard to feed the world. But at what cost?
A new report from the Los Angeles Times paints a rather disturbing picture of what some laborers face — unsanitary and unsafe conditions, poor housing, exposure to harmful chemicals, debt bondage, and in some cases child labor.
These realities exist, and we must both acknowledge and work to change them. At the same time, we also have to remember that there are many farms out there doing good. For every disheartening reality we see or read about, there are farms working hard to support their workers and directly combat the conditions outlined by the LA Times. Thanks to certification programs like Fair Trade, these farms and farmworkers are empowered to create safe, sustainable, vibrant farming communities.
How is this possible? Let’s examine how the Fair Trade model honors farmworkers, not just during a single week, but all year long.
Quality and food safety is another crucial area that's directly affected by worker health and happiness. A farm may have exquisite greenhouses and sanitation practices, but this system can be easily compromised if workers come and go after using dirty bathrooms, if they don't have time or clean facilities to wash their clothes and shower between shifts, or if they must work while sick in order to feed their families.
At Wholesum Harvest, a Fair Trade produce farm in Mexico, workers voted to purchase a bus to take them to and from work, and their children to and from school. Previously they would have to travel long distances, and pay expensive bus fares — costing up to a third of a worker’s daily salary. The purchase of the bus saves a tremendous amount of precious time and money.
Just ask Elvia Almachi, a mother, student and flower farmworker at the Agrogana flower farm in Ecuador. By day she packs roses — most of which go to Whole Foods Market — and by night she attends the adult school program funded by the Fair Trade Premium.
“Please continue to believe in us. It’s through these Fair Trade flowers that hundreds of families like mine continually improve our lives.”-- Elvia Almachi
“The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.”--Cesar Chavez