Protest at Trader Joe's to Demand Fair Farm Labor Standards

Florida tomato pickers will be joined by students and community activists for a Feb. 28 protest at the Trader Joe's store on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where they will rally to demand that the Monrovia, Calif.-based chain join a growing partnership among farmworkers, Florida tomato growers, and food retailers. The “Be a Fair Trader, Joe!” protest is part of a weeklong bus tour undertaken by the tomato pickers to pressure more retailers that buy Florida tomatoes to take part.

"We pick New York's tomatoes, and for years, those tomatoes have been harvested in Florida's fields under unimaginably harsh conditions," said Leonel Perez of the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a community-based farmworker organization with over 4,000 members. "Today, however, we are finally beginning to see the first glimmers of more humane treatment at work, thanks to the Campaign for Fair Food. But Trader Joe's is standing in the way of progress."

Perez criticized Trader Joe's for its “insistence that it ethically sources its tomatoes. Certainly, if Trader Joe's were claiming to sell Fair Trade coffee while refusing to pay the Fair Trade premium and instead paying the straight market price, consumers would be justifiably outraged. Fair Trade standards -- including better wages and working conditions for the people who pick the coffee – are not without cost, and the Fair Trade premium is essential to making those improved conditions possible. For more and more consumers shopping at Trader Joe's, claiming to sell ethically-sourced tomatoes from Florida while refusing to pay the Fair Food premium and instead paying the straight market price is likewise unacceptable.”

The CIW's Fair Food principles include a penny-per-pound wage increase, a strict code of conduct, a cooperative complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process. Retailers that have pledged to work with the CIW include Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market.

At presstime, Trader Joe’s officials had not responded to a request from Progressive Grocer for comment.

In November 2010, the CIW and the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE) signed an agreement to extend the principles to more 90 percent of the state's tomato fields. The principles are being phased in gradually over the course of this season and the next.

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