- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

IMMOKALEE, Fla. (AP) - A major U.S. grocery company joined an initiative Wednesday that requires its Florida tomato suppliers to increase farmworker pay and protect workers from forced labor and sexual assault.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers announced that Ahold USA is America’s first major grocer to join the group’s Fair Food Program.

Ahold USA is the parent company of Stop & Shop, Giant Foods of Landover, Giant Foods of Carlisle, Martin’s and online grocer Peapod. The company represents 780 supermarkets across the country and 50 million customers each month. Ahold’s participation will increase the number of U.S. grocery stores carry Fair Food tomatoes by approximately 75 percent.

“Ahold USA’s companies are deeply committed to responsible practices throughout their operations and to providing customers with great products at great prices from suppliers who share our dedication to strong ethical standards and fair treatment for workers,” Ahold USA James McCann said in a news release. “The cornerstone of this commitment is the Ahold Standards of Engagement, which commit our companies’ suppliers to these values. The Fair Food Program is a time-tested leader in improving the lives of agricultural workers, and we have observed the Program’s success over the past several years.”

Ahold USA joins nearly a dozen other corporations, including Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, Chipotle, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s and Yum Brands - the company whose restaurant chains include Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut.

“We are truly proud to welcome Ahold USA into the Fair Food Program and excited about the opportunity to work with an industry leader like Ahold,” coalition member Gerardo Reyes said. “Ahold USA is the first of the country’s major grocers to join the program and, as such, not only will its partnership help propel to new heights our efforts to protect farmworkers’ rights, but we believe its market leadership will send an invaluable message to the rest of the grocery industry that social responsibility is greatly strengthened when workers, suppliers and retailers work together toward a more modern, more humane agricultural industry.”

Florida tomato suppliers in the Fair Food Program pass on to their buyers a penny-per-pound of tomatoes pay increase for farmworkers. They also must have zero tolerance for forced labor and sexual assault and put in place a mechanism for resolving labor disputes between growers and farmworkers. The program also requires growers to allow farmworkers to form health and safety committees on each farm.

Growers in compliance earn a “Participating Grower” designation, and if they lose the designation through violations, they won’t be able to sell their tomatoes to the participating buyers, such as Ahold USA, according to the coalition.

The coalition began fighting to increase the wages of tomato pickers back in the 1990s, attempting strikes with little success early on. Then the group turned to the major food chains that bought the tomatoes, leading to a nationwide boycott of Taco Bell that culminated in a 2005 agreement with the fast-food chain.

More deals with tomato buyers soon followed, but each time the growers balked. The growers threatened to fine any members who worked with the coalition and instead created their own safety and worker protection plan.

Finally, in 2010, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange agreed to boost wages and working conditions for farmworkers with measures outlined in the Fair Food Program.


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