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Farmworkers, farmers discuss labor standards for domestic fair trade
The central theme was farmworker justice in the food production system. Farmworkers challenged the notion of voluntary humane practices in farms, and proposed labor standards that will guide Fair Trade for food grown and sold within the U.S. A sticker “Got Food? Thank a Farmworker” highlighted the mood among participants about farmworkers’ role in food production.
Participants reached a consensus on guidelines that should be reflected in the development and implementation of domestic fair trade: 1) farmworkers must have, as much as farmers and consumers, equal representation, voice, and participation in the development process of a fair trade seal, 2) just salaries for farmworkers, 3) the right of farmworkers to organize without the fear of retaliation. In addition, healthy and safe working conditions as well as safe housing were high on the list to be included in the ongoing development of a domestic fair trade seal.
Yolanda Gómez, from the Farmworker Association of Florida, said that Domestic Fair Trade offers the hope that another world is possible within the food production system. She envisions a food system that benefits farmworkers, farmers and consumers where food is healthy, free of harmful chemicals, and meets social justice principles.
Alfonso Rodea works in a dairy farm, part of a coop in Waseca that pays fair prices for milk. Alfonso said “the farmer has secured fair prices for his milk but this benefit has not reached the farmworkers because I (and another worker) work 12 hours a day without overtime pay. If we had fair trade benefits we would have fair wages, health benefits, and overtime payment.”
Ana Guzmán, a former farmworker and current board member of the Farmworker Pesticide Project in Washington State expressed that Fair Trade offers a way to produce safe food for consumers at a fair price for farmers and provide a packet of benefits for farmworkers that would enable them to live with dignity and respect.
A few farms from Minnesota and Wisconsin are already participating in a pilot project on Domestic Fair Trade, called the Agricultural Justice Project. Olegario Gasca, a farmworker from a local pilot farm, likes the chemical-free farm where he works because it protects his health and that of his family. Olegario hopes that the Domestic Fair Trade program would eventually guarantee him better wages and provide information on annual wage adjustment based on the cost of living.
Eduardo Alvarez (from Alvarez Organic Farms), a vegetable grower from the lower Yakima Valley in Mebton, WA thinks that Fair Trade is a good step for small farmers because it brings benefits not only for the farmer but for the farmworker as well. Adolfo Alvarez, a former pesticide applicator and currently an organic orchard grower believes that the health of farmworkers should be the first priority in food production.
Nancy VanDeHey, of the “Colectiva Armonía” farming collective in Everson, WA says “this meeting is important because it brings all the different players together for a healthy dialogue on these issues that otherwise may not take place separately on our own. Healthy food and social justice go hand in hand. I will be proud to call my farm a Fair Trade Farm.”
Fair Trade has historically focused on small-scale farmers from less industrialized nations whose livelihoods are threatened by low commodity prices and unfair competition from large producers in rich countries. Fair Trade has traditionally focused on paying small producers in developing countries a better price than the international market and marketing their products in wealthy markets of industrialized nations. Fair trade has challenged the unfair rules of world trade that hurt small producers in poor nations.
Another movement in food production is to grow organically. Organic food is produced without most synthetic chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers, without bio-engineering or irradiation, growth hormones or antibiotics. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has put in place a set of national standards that food labeled “organic” must meet whether it is grown in the United States or imported from somewhere else. The USDA organic label has been in effect since October 21, 2002.
While organic production addresses environmental concerns in food products it does not ensure social justice for farmworkers, nor does it tackle the issue of unfair competition against small-scale farmers by big corporations.
CATA’s director, Nelson Carrasquillo who attended the meeting, thinks that Domestic Fair Trade connects farmworkers and consumers, recognizing their common need for wholesome and safe food. Most importantly, he says that Domestic Fair Trade addresses the need for just working conditions in the workplace. Carrasquillo stated that “a model of social justice in agriculture represents a philosophical change in the food production system where food could be produced in a way that is healthy, abundant for all, and with human dignity.”
Fair Trade was born as a response to an international outcry by social justice activists and organizers to the plight of millions of small farmers in poor countries that were left out of international agreements and were unable to reach the international market. Domestic Fair Trade includes farmworkers in the negotiations for the development of a fair trade label that will address social justice for farmworkers, farmers, and consumers in the production of food that is healthy and socially just.
Rosalinda Guillén from a Washington farmworker community “Comunidad a Comunidad” thinks that “Fair Trade is another way to bring social justice to agricultural workers.”
Roberto Bermudez also from “Colectiva Armonia” likes Fair Trade because it brings benefits to farmworkers, producers and consumers. He says “it will be good for all.”
Victor Contreras from Centro Campesino thinks that Fair Trade is a positive step and it can be used as a tool in the struggle for a more dignified life for farmworkers in the United States.
Chela Vázquez from Pesticide Action Network North America participated in the Farmworker Conference on Domestic Fair Trade in Owatonna, Minnesota.
©2007 Chela Vázquez