Oxfam America
MARCH 15, 2004
11:00 AM
CONTACT:  Oxfam America
Lyndsay Cruz 202-460-0760
Oxfam: Like Machines, Nearly Two Million U.S. Farmworkers Labor Without Rights; Oxfam Brings Together Human Rights Leaders in Fla.

WASHINGTON - March 15 - Big brand companies in the fresh produce industry are driving down employment conditions for millions of farmworkers in the U.S., according to a new study by international development agency Oxfam America. The report is part of Oxfam's Make Trade Fair campaign, which today brought together human rights leaders, farmworkers and others in Immokalee, Florida to call on corporations, the government and consumers to act.

Around the globe and across different industries, brand name buyers are undermining labor standards by squeezing their supply chain to provide cheaper products and stricter standards. Producers, in turn, must substantially reduce their labor costs or be forced out of business. Instead of receiving a fair share in the advantages of increased global trade, workers are paying the price by working harder usually for less money under more hazardous conditions.

"In the United States, farmworkers are systematically excluded from basic core labor rights which other American workers enjoy: the right to organize, rights to overtime pay, as well as labor rights protecting children." Said former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson. "This is discrimination and it must be corrected."

"It is unacceptable that huge profits are being made off the back of the hardest working and lowest paid workers in the world. It is unconscionable for that to be happening right here in the United States," said Oxfam America President Raymond C. Offenheiser.

The report released today by Oxfam America, "Like Machines in the Fields, Workers without Rights in American Agriculture," exposes how those global business trends are taking place in the fresh produce industry in the United States. Big buyers, like institutional food services and fast food companies, are buying increasing volumes of produce at increasingly cheaper prices.

In the U.S. nearly two million farmworkers, mainly immigrants, toil without rights, earn sub-living wages and exist in dehumanizing conditions. The piece rate paid to tomato pickers in Florida, for example, has dropped by 65 percent over the past twenty five years. In the fields of Florida, California, North Carolina and other states, one million farmworkers earn less than $7,500 per year.

Farmworkers are excluded from most federal labor law protections, including the right to organize and bargain collectively. As a result, poor sanitation, sub-poverty wages, no overtime pay, no health benefits, insufficient water, and violence and abuse of workers are frequently part of farmworkers' daily reality.

Examining the lucrative food industries, the report finds that companies are using their dominant market position to drive cost and risk down their supply chains.

Companies such as Yum Brands, the largest fast food company in the world and owns Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and other chains, must change the way they work with producers and in negotiating deliveries and prices, Oxfam says. The big institutional buyers are the ones with the power and the profits to ensure that workers get a fair share.

Says Robinson: "My message to Yum Brands is: you can't pass the buck. You are profiting by exploitation and you have the power to change what is happening in the fields. So, pay this penny a pound more for workers rights, and assume your fair share of responsibility."