Take Action: Workers and the Food System

Ready to get in on the action? Read about ways to advocate for justice for farmworkers and food system employees.

tomato justice

For Everyone

Support farmworker-called boycotts. Occasionally, farmworkers will call for boycotts of certain products in response to poor labor conditions or treatment. By writing, calling or faxing the company, you will support workers’ efforts for improved work environments. You can also fill out customer comment cards to encourage grocery stores to honor farmworker-called boycotts. For more information on current boycotts, visit the websites of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), or United Farm Workers (UFW).

Be a conscious consumer. Purchase locally-grown, pesticide-free and sustainably-produced fruits and vegetables that reduce workers exposure to dangerous chemicals. Support local food cooperatives, farmers’ markets and organic growers’ associations that honor just labor practices. Local Harvest will help locate local food sources near you.

Stay informed of current issues affecting farmworkers. A broad range of issues — from pesticide laws to immigration policy — affect farmworkers. You can receive updates on these issues through these listservs:

WhyHunger newsletter signup

COMFOOD email listserv signup

Buy fair trade products. By buying fair trade products, consumers can encourage employers to adopt humane labor practices. Products marked with a fair trade label indicate that farmer-owned cooperatives received a financial premium on one or more of the raw ingredients. This premium is often used for community projects determined by the cooperative members that benefit farmers and their families. Though fair trade does not address root causes of farmer poverty, it can be a relief for one of the most vulnerable global populations – small-scale farmers in low-income countries. Fairtrade International and Fair Trade USA offer a comprehensive list of manufacturers, importers and retailers of fair trade products and companies that provide these products. The Domestic Fair Trade Association is a group of companies and NGOs that sell fair trade products made in the United States and also encourage policy reform to spread fair trade and justice.

Advocate against free trade agreements. Free trade pacts have stimulated a race to the bottom in the prices of internationally traded commodities. This translates into a race to the bottom in the wages and working conditions of workers, as these agreements are typically written to benefit industrialized farms and pharmaceutical corporations, with little consideration given to developing countries. Visit Farmworker Justice for resources on speaking out against these agreements.

Volunteer with a local agency that works with farmworkers. Most organizations that support farmworkers are not-for-profit, understaffed and operating on thin margins. Health outreach workers, migrant education or English as a Second Language instructors, community organizers, lawyers, documentary photographers and writers would all be useful to these organizations. Think about how you can use your profession to support farmworkers. To find an agency near you, check out the Student Action with Farmworkers legal services links.

Organize awareness-raising presentations. Offer to speak on farmworker issues at local religious organizations, clubs, libraries and other community meeting spaces.

Contact your representatives about issues affecting farmworkers. Research your representatives’ positions on farmworker issues and write, call or fax them your opinion on these matters. For a list of representatives contact information, click here.

For Students

(From Student Action with Farmworkers)

Invite farmworkers and agency or union representatives to speak on campus. Contact the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), or United Farm Workers (UFW), to find out about possibilities. One of these unions may have a speaking tour already in progress — contact them to set a date for your campus!

Create a boycott committee and encourage dining services to boycott products. You can communicate with administrators through meetings, newspaper editorials and letters, campus radio shows, petitions, rallies and sit-ins.

Make presentations about farmworkers to campus groups. You may find the most receptive audiences in justice-oriented groups, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t branch out to other groups. Think about speaking to faith-based organizations, women’s groups, academic clubs and social organizations.

Participate in “Farmworker Awareness Week.” Every spring, SAF holds awareness week during which time you can arrange a farmworker-related film screening, distribute handbills, coordinate speakers and discussion groups, or plan a rally featuring farmworkers, students, union members and faculty speaking in support of farmworkers.

Organize a letter-writing campaign at your school centering on current legislation affecting farmworkers. Hand-written letters are most effective. As few as ten letters to a legislator will urge action. Click here for your representatives’ contact information.

For Farm Managers

Understand and adopt standards that protect workers’ rights. CATA (The Farmworkers Support Committee) has begun collaborating with workers, farmers, buyers and retailers to design a set of fair labor standards for the organic industry — such as safe housing, collective bargaining, access to medical care and minimal exposure to toxic substances — which can be assigned to production processes that adhere to international laws protecting workers rights.

Agreements such as the International Convention on Safety and Health in Agriculture are voluntary and modest, but if they were followed in the United States, they could lead to important improvements in employer practices and government policies, which would save lives and reduce injury and disease among agricultural workers. An ILO Convention is not binding on a country unless its government ratifies it; the U.S. Congress has not ratified this Convention, but as an individual, you can learn about the standards and make the choice to follow them.

Contact a farmworker advocacy group. Connect with one of the major farmworker advocacy groups, such as Student Action with FarmworkersFarmworker Justice or United Farm Workers of America to learn about the issues facing migrant farmworkers, and the steps you can take to make their living and working conditions safer and healthier.

Read up. The University of Missouri provides several publications which explain not only the laws surrounding farm labor, but also suggest ways that farm owners can keep work schedules within reasonable hours and eliminate hazards to workers. The University of California also publishes a handbook entitled Labor Management in Agriculture, which covers such topics as the use of practical tests in hiring, the fine-tuning of incentive pay (including piece rates), the advantages and disadvantages of different pay structures, performance evaluations, interpersonal conflicts and employee discipline.

Updated 9/2014