Our current industrial farm culture not only degrades the environment, the soil and the water, but subjects workers to an array of hazards such as respiratory infections, sprains, bruises, severe head trauma, fractures, electrocution and repetitive motion injury.
Paul Rice, Founder and CEO of Fair Trade USA emphasizes the need for Fair Trade Certification in the agricultural sector internationally – even in a “developed” country like the US…
A 2014 Los Angeles Times investigation found Mexican farm workers living in squalor, denied wages, and trapped in debt on farms that export produce to the U.S., highlighting the need for standardization and enforcement of labor standards. Unfortunately, U.S. farms could not provide a much better example of decent work in practice. In the U.S., just as in other parts of the world, workers face abysmally low wages, unsafe and toxic working conditions, child labor, indentured servitude, and human trafficking. They are also regularly unable to gain access to medical care and education.
He acknowledges that while the US has stronger labor laws than many other countries, they still don’t meet Fair Trade Certified standards…
- Federal laws permit a 13-year-old to work in the heat of a strawberry field in the U.S. but do not permit that same child to work in an air-conditioned office. Fair Trade’s Agricultural Production Standard prohibits workers under 18 years old working on the farm.
- California, Minnesota, and Washington are the only states with formal heat stress protections written into law, according to the Safety+Health Magazine. Fair Trade’s Agricultural Production Standard requires rest and meal breaks by default, plus extra protections in high-temperature areas, like cool water and shaded break areas.
- According to Public Serving Broadcasting (PBS), the majority of farm workers in the U.S. are excluded from freedoms and protections afforded to other workers in the National Labor Relations Act from 1935 and the Fair Labor Standards Act from 1938.
Agricultural workers deserve the same fair income, secure workplaces and social protections provided to other industrial workers under state and federal laws.
Adhering to Fair Trade standards comes with added benefit to farm workers in the form of Fair Trade Committees and Community Development Funds. It’s simple: for every Fair Trade Certified product sold, the farmers who grew it earn an additional amount of money called Community Development Funds. From there, a democratically-elected group of farm workers, called the Fair Trade Committee, assembles to decide how to spend these dollars to meet their unique social, economic, and environmental needs.
In 2016, Wholesum Harvest, a family-owned tomato farm in Nogales, Arizona, made headlines when it announced its status as the very first Fair Trade Certified™ farm in the United States.
Within a year of becoming Fair Trade Certified, workers at Wholesum Harvest made their very first project investing in health insurance for the farmworkers. Even with employer-provided insurance available to all the workers, many still could not afford it, so workers voted to use their funds to offset the employee cost. In January 2018, Wholesum Harvest went from less than 5 percent to now 88 percent of its workers opting in to the employee-provided health insurance. (Compare that to just 35 percent of farm workers in the U.S. who report having health insurance.)