CIW is a worker-based human rights organization internationally recognized for its achievements in the fields of corporate social responsibility, community organizing and sustainable food.
2006 Harry Chapin Self-Reliance Award Winner
“Pesticides hurt your nose and face … We get up at 4:30a.m. to go wait for work. And sometimes they don’t pay us — we work eight or 10 hours a day and don’t get a check. We’re just trying to feed our families,” said Manuel Cortez, a 17-year-old farmworker who immigrated to the U.S. from Oaxaca, Mexico, to reporter Kari Lydersen.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has heard stories like Manuel’s for years. At a camp in Lake Placid, Florida, people were kept under constant surveillance, crammed four to a single room the size of a pantry, denied their rightful pay, beaten and pistol-whipped into submission. Farmworkers are the most transient of laborers and unquestionably the most impoverished of all workers in America. Farmworkers make, on average, less than $10,000 a year, working with toxic pesticides and living in substandard conditions with no health benefits, vacation time, or sick days.
What is the cost of justice to farmworkers like Manuel? One penny. By paying one penny more per pound for tomatoes, produce purchasers can nearly double farmworkers’ wages. Currently, workers would have to pick almost 2.5 tons of tomatoes per day to earn the minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday (nearly twice the amount a worker had to pick to earn minimum wage 30 years ago).
In the spring of 2005, CIW won a historic and unprecedented victory after a four year boycott of Taco Bell, resulting in increased wages and a workers’ rights agreement for the workers who harvest Taco Bell’s tomatoes. Since then, the Coalition has also won landmark agreements with McDonald’s and Burger King, with both fast food giants pledging to improve farmworker wages and working conditions throughout their supply chains.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, founded in 1994, is a community-based worker organization based in Immokalee, Florida. Its more than 3,000 members are largely Latino, Haitian, and Mayan Indian immigrant farmworkers who speak a variety of languages. Together, they are fighting for livable wages; improved working conditions; better and cheaper housing; stronger worker rights, laws and enforcement; the right to organize without fear of retaliation; and an end to indentured servitude in the fields. In 20 years, CIW has become a powerful advocate for farmworkers and an internationally recognized leader in the fight against modern-day slavery, helping bring justice to Florida since 1997.
The CIW is more than an organization. It is a movement that empowers workers to resist exploitation and demand justice. The power of the CIW’s message can best be summed by its slogan: “Consciousness + Commitment=Change.” The Coalition builds community through reflection and analysis, coalition building across ethnic divisions, and an ongoing investment in leadership development among its members. Like peasant and indigenous movements around the world, the CIW also uses art, music, and images to vividly paint pictures of the lives of low wage workers. These unconventional methods aim to awaken a wider public to the struggles that farmworkers face every day.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a well-deserved winner of WhyHunger’s Harry Chapin Self-Reliance Award. The cash grant award is given to outstanding grassroots organizations in the U.S. who have moved beyond charity to create change in their communities. Winners are judged outstanding for their innovative and creative approaches to fighting domestic hunger and poverty by empowering people and building self-reliance. The CIW embodies innovative solutions and self-reliance, two vital components for social change and justice.
The Coalition will use its award to build a community center to serve as a base for human rights work and for the many programs for the community. Aside from bars, restaurants, and street corners, farm workers have no place to congregate. There is currently no public space for seasonal workers to meet, learn valuable skills and work together to address the human rights abuses they experience in the fields. A community center is critical for the workers to reinforce connections necessary to confront cases of modern day slavery in the fields.
The unconventional tactics of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers have won unprecedented gains for some of this country’s most marginalized workers. In addition to winning an extra penny per pound for tomato harvesters, the Coalition’s victories demonstrate that corporations must be held accountable for their exploitative financial policies. The Coalition plays a critical role in raising the public’s consciousness to demand justice for all.