BAMCO backs Florida tomato pickers in fight for fair labor standards
Jane Black reports in the Washington Post that the gigantic U.S. food-service company Bon Appetit Management Company has partnered with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to take on Florida's shamelessly, and infamously abusive tomato growers in what we hope will be a very effective tomato-or-a-big-stick approach. Florida's tomato growers have a special infernal circle reserved for them: they fought tooth and nail against a penny-a-pound increase (workers' wages hadn't risen in three decades), but even after their fast-food customers caved to consumer pressure and agreed to pay the increase, they have somehow avoided passing it along to workers.
BAMCo, which sources sustainable and often local food for its 400 corporate cafes in 29 states (clients include Dreamworks SKG, eBay, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium), intends to limit its 5 million pounds of tomatoes purchased annually to those from tomato growers who can prove they adhere to a strict code of conduct. They have to prove they offer acceptable working conditions (some growers have been convicted for keeping workers in chains as slaves), better-than-minimum wages, and other labor improvements. (Straus Communications press release has full details.) With luck, this will have the side benefit of opening up the market to smaller growers. If nobody steps forward, BAMCo will stop buying Florida tomatoes and explain why to its millions of café patrons. While this is fantastic news, and we hope a huge boon to the CIW's membership, Black notes that 5 million pounds of tomatoes pales in comparison to the 20 million that McDonald's buys annually, and quotes longtime Immokalee advocate Eric Schlosser as saying he hopes it's not just a PR stunt.
Fedele Bauccio, Bon Appetit's CEO, is a charming guy not averse to good publicity, and a businessman first. He has to be — BAMCo is owned by the publicly traded, UK-based Compass Group — but BAMCo's track record indicates a serious commitment to persuading, and enabling, people to chew the right thing. I look forward to seeing BAMCo face off against the tomato growers, with possibly Whole Foods joining the cause.
- Jane Black's April 28 feature for the Washington Post, "A Squeeze for Tomato Growers"
- Tom Philpott's March 2009 series on visiting the Immokalee workers in Florida (Part I | Part 2)
- Gourmet magazine recently covered the exploitation of Florida's tomato pickers in print ("The Price of Tomatoes") and online edition entitled, "Florida's slave trade"
- Eric Schlosser's Nov. 2007 scathing NY Times op-ed on the penny-a-pound fight
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