Law and medical schools consider tomato-free eating

| Managing Editor

The campus-wide tomato ban has taken another unexpected turn at Washington University after the Aramark Corporation offered to discontinue the sale of tomatoes on campus but lost backing from Students for Fair Trade.

After the Bon Appétit Management Company signed an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in November, Students for Fair Trade had been pressuring Aramark—which operates the eateries at the Washington University School of Law and School of Medicine—to sign a similar agreement to ensure that all tomatoes on campus came from growers who offered workers living wages and safe working conditions.

“Getting tomatoes banned was not actually our original goal; we wanted Aramark as a corporation to sign an agreement with the CIW so that they wouldn’t have to ban tomatoes and could instead buy ethically produced ones,” Jessica Goldkind, the former president of Students for Fair Trade, wrote in an e-mail.

Goldkind led the tomato ban effort and helped produce a petition signed by more than 180 individuals calling for Aramark to discontinue tomato sales. Goldkind was assisted by Geeti Mahajan, a graduate student at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work.

Dena McGeorge, regional manager for Aramark, received the petition and then met with Students for Fair Trade. McGeorge offered to discontinue tomato sales on campus until Aramark signed on with the CIW, and an offer was originally accepted.

“At first we thought that would be good, which is why word spread about that…but then we talked to the leaders of the Student/Farmworker Alliance, who explained that a local ban could be bad for their long-term strategy,” Goldkind added in the e-mail.

Aramark corporate headquarters claimed no involvement in the discussions with Students for Fair Trade and was unaware that any offer was made to discontinue tomatoes.

Though Aramark has not signed an agreement with the CIW, Aramark Communications Director Karen Cutler stressed that the company and its distribution partners attempt to contract with growers whose practices meet applicable workplace laws and regulations whenever possible.

The food service giant also has agreed to the “penny per pound” premium, in which 1 cent goes directly to the workers for every pound of tomatoes purchased. But Cutler acknowledged in writing that “it is widely known that the money accumulated over the past few years has largely been held in escrow and that the Farm Workers have not received these funds.”

Now that each campus eatery has established its policy on tomato sales, Students for Fair Trade is focusing on raising public awareness about the plight of tomato pickers.

“We’re just trying to work on raising awareness about different ways in which our consumer power as a university impacts the world, so now I think we’re going to focus more on the consciousness-raising aspect of it,” said senior Jessica Werley, the current president of Students for Fair Trade.

Students for Fair Trade hopes to host a roundtable discussion in February to continue the tomato dialogue on campus.

  • http://sfalliance.org SFA

    The statements from Aramark are patently false. Allow us to respond:

    Aramark: “We have been working with the CIW for some time.” Or, “We are currently working directly with CIW to address the needs of the farm workers.”

    -Response: Corporations such as Compass, Whole Foods, and McDonald’s — who have signed binding, working agreements with the CIW — are working with the CIW. There is no way Aramark can say that it is “working directly with the CIW” in any sense of the term. There currently exists no genuine compromise on the part of Aramark to work with the CIW as Compass and others have demonstrated. The corporations that the CIW has agreements with are taking concrete steps to improve the situation in Florida’s fields, such as working together with the CIW toward establishing an independent, third party monitoring body. Aramark is not. Furthermore, the first of seven highly-publicized modern-day slavery cases to emerge from Florida’s fields was successfully prosecuted back in 1997; additionally, Aramark was contacted by the Student/Farmworker Alliance and told about the situation of Florida farmworkers in 2002 (during the CIW’s Taco Bell boycott) because of its relationship with Taco Bell on many college campuses. For Aramark to think, then, given all of us, and given all of the time that has passed, that a small handful of conversations that have not led to a successful resolution constitute “working directly with the CIW” is an insult to the intelligence of farmworkers and their supporters.

    Aramark: “Aramark has independently agreed to pay the ‘penny per pound’ premium and is working directly with both the CIW and our distribution partners…”

    -Response: Of course, no one wants this to be true more than the workers who desperately need that raise. It would be very simple to make this real if Aramark were to sign an agreement with the CIW: they would only then need to direct their tomato purchases toward East Coast (and/or one of the other two growers who have agreed to participate in the agreements alongside the corporations and the CIW) and the penny-per-pound would commence to be passed through to the workers in a transparent, verifiable fashion. As it stands now, Aramark can say that they’re paying the penny-per-pound premium, but without an agreement with the CIW, there’s no verification or accountability to back that up. Apparently, Aramark will oversee its own payments under its penny per pound plan, and Aramark will verify its own compliance with the changes it is proposing. That’s just not credible. Transparency, verification, and participation are essential elements of the agreements the CIW has reached with other industry leaders, and they are essential elements in any defensible definition of social responsibility.

    Speaking of participation, it’s also important that Aramark understands that the “penny-per-pound” is not the only change that the workers are asking for. As a matter of fact, Aramark doesn’t adequately address a code of conduct or worker participation anywhere in the statement that was forwarded to you, and those are key components of any resolution to this issue.

    The working agreements that the CIW holds with major food corporations stipulate the following main concepts: That those corporations pay at least one penny more per pound for the tomatoes that they purchase, to directly increase farmworker wages; that these corporations work together with the CIW to develop and implement an enforceable, human-rights based code of conduct (including zero tolerance for modern-day slavery) in their supply chains to reverse decades of inhumane treatment of workers in the agricultural industry; and the guarantee that workers themselves are involved in the development, verification and monitoring of all aspects of these agreements. This participation – a permanent seat at the negotiating table for farmworkers – is the linchpin of said agreements and is at the core of how and why the CIW is seeking to reform the agricultural industry. As supporters of the CIW, we share this perspective: Workers themselves who are most directly and intimately affected by the abuses of the industry must be at the forefront of transforming and eliminating those abuses.

    The demand for economic relief to address 30 years of stagnant wages goes hand-in-hand with the demand for the code of conduct/improved working conditions/zero tolerance for modern-day slavery and the demand for workers’ voices and participation to be a part of all of this. Taken together, those are the three main and inseparable demands of the Campaign for Fair Food; Aramark has thus far only attempted to address one of those, and hasn’t even done anything concrete on that front. And while this may seem like a tangent form the penny-per-pound discussion, the degree to which Aramark is serious about working together with the CIW — the group representing and led by farmworkers from Immokalee — as well as growers and other industry leaders on the code of conduct, is the degree to which Aramark is serious about reaching an agreement with the CIW that will be worth the paper it’s written on.

    What the workers are seeking is a more sustainable and more stable Florida tomato industry through a “win-win-win” scenario: The corporate purchasers of tomatoes benefit by practicing true social responsibility (in high demand from their own consumers), the growers benefit by getting a huge amount of guaranteed business (we now have 7 corporations that are legally bound — through their agreements with the CIW — to preferentially buy tomatoes from growers willing to implement those agreements), and, of course, the workers benefit from increased wages and more humane and decent working conditions. treatment on the job. In other words, the CIW agreements create a market-based incentive, for the fist time ever, for growers to do the right thing; the enforceable code of conduct carries real market consequences for growers who abuse their workers. But this only works if Aramark and other corporations come on board with the CIW.

    Aramark: “…it is widely known that the money… has largely been held in escrow and that the farm workers have not received these funds.”

    -Response: We can turn to this link (http://www.grist.org/article/steve-ells-will-you-accept-the-chipotle-challenge/), particularly these two paragraphs:

    << Progress hit a snag in November 2007 when the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE), a powerful industry lobby group, announced that its members would not pass the penny-per-pound bonus onto their harvesters as required by the Fair Food agreements. Without participating growers, the CIW and its buyer-partners agreed to temporarily place the accruing funds into an escrow account until willing growers stepped forward. Meanwhile, the CIW pressed ahead with the campaign in anticipation of the day when the growers’ unified resistance crumbled.

    After extensive behind-the-scenes negotiations, three Florida tomato growers were onboard by September 2009, including East Coast Growers, the third-largest producer in the state. Presently the CIW is not only expanding the Campaign for Fair Food into the supermarket and foodservice industries but also implementing the worker-designed code of conduct and verification mechanisms called for by the campaign at these participating farms. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders heralded the breakthrough as “the beginning of the end of the harvest of shame that has existed for far too long in Florida’s tomato fields.”

    And the reason why those growers came around? The aforementioned preferential purchasing; the purchasing power that the CIW has been able to get on its side through the campaign since 2001, resulting in 7 major corporations signing agreements with the CIW that in significant ways govern, modify, and monitor their tomato purchases from Florida.

    In other words, Aramark will only be helping the penny to pass through to the workers in a more sustainable and transparent fashion by signing an agreement with the CIW. It's peculiar that Aramark singles out the complications that existed in getting the extra penny to the workers, as if to poke a hole in what the CIW is asking for, when ironically, the participation of major tomato purchasers like Aramark is necessary to make that penny pass through to the workers whom Aramark claims to be so concerned about.

    Aramark: "…we have also… decided to direct… all tomato purchases toward our preferred growers whose practices meet applicable wage and workplace laws and regulations…"

    Unfortunately, in the tomato industry, this means little. Many of the hardships and abuses that workers face, such as long, grueling hours of backbreaking work, sub-poverty wages, lack of the right to organize, lack of a voice in the industry, no right to overtime pay, etc. — are completely legal. Other abuses are violations of the law, but the law is hardly ever enforced. The CIW's campaign and the code of conduct it has put into place create actual, concrete consequences for violations of workers' rights, consequences that are slowly influencing the growers to do the right thing and modernize their industry. To give you an example, the Department of Labor for the entire area of southwest Florida (where tens of thousands work in the agricultural industry alone) has one or two inspectors; if a worker were to call their office, they would hear a recording in English telling them that the office (located about 40 miles from Immokalee) is open Wednesday mornings. So there's no way that Aramark can rely on "wage and workplace laws" if it really wants a socially responsible tomato supply chain. Those laws and regulations did nothing to stop seven cases of slavery since 1997; the CIW's code of conduct mandates that a grower loses its privilege to sell tomatoes to the corporations the CIW has agreements with if conditions of slavery are found in that grower's fields, and this has already been put into practice around the last slavery case (The "Navarette" case – http://www.gourmet.com/magazine/2000s/2009/03/politics-of-the-plate-the-price-of-tomatoes )

    To sum things up, it's simple. It's good to see that Aramark has finally — after several years of ignoring the dire human rights crisis in Florida's fields — come around to recognizing the need for change. But it's not enough to simply recognize the problem. Aramark also needs to do the honest, hard work of sitting at the table and hammering out a workable solution. Compass Group has set the standard for social responsibility in the food
    service provider industry's tomato supply chains
    (http://www.csrwire.com/press/press_release/27757-Compass-Group-and-the-Coalition-of-Immokalee-Workers-CIW-Announce-Sweeping-Changes-to-Benefit-Tomato-Harvesters)
    and Aramark must at least meet that same standard. If not, students, faculty, and other concerned members of the campus communities that Aramark services around the country will continue to pay close attention to this issue.