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Students Launch National Campaign: Aramark, Sodexo Must Eliminate Human Rights Abuses in Florida's Agricultural Fields
Students to food service industry: “If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.”
IMMOKALEE, Fla. - March 26 - The Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA) announces today a major new phase in the Campaign for Fair Food, launching an effort to educate and mobilize students across the U.S. around the role of food service industry leaders Aramark, Compass and Sodexo in perpetuating farmworker poverty and human rights abuses. The SFA is calling on these three corporations to follow the example of other food industry leaders by partnering with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to directly improve wages and working conditions for Florida tomato pickers.
In the campaign's first phase of national actions, students across the country will be meeting with their campus dining directors next week - in conjunction with the Student/Labor Week of Action and National Farmworker Awareness Week - to encourage university-level support for human rights and ethical food contracting. The on-campus campaign will escalate in the weeks and months ahead with creative actions and mobilizations planned at dozens of campuses.
Aramark, Compass and Sodexo dominate the on-campus dining services industry through contracts with thousands of higher education institutions. The low-cost, high-volume purchasing practices of the food service, supermarket, and fast-food industries help to create conditions in the fields where poverty wages and other human rights abuses flourish.
Since 2001, the CIW, working in close alliance with the SFA in a national "Campaign for Fair Food," has reached agreements with Yum Brands, McDonald's, Burger King, Subway and Whole Foods that guarantee at least a penny more per pound to workers harvesting tomatoes for these companies, a human rights-based code of conduct, a collaborative effort to develop a third party mechanism for monitoring conditions in the fields, and farmworker participation in the development and implementation of these reforms.
Today, the SFA urges Aramark, Compass and Sodexo to take similar steps and join in the rising tide of social responsibility in the corporate food industry. According to Southern Illinois University student Kandace Vallejo, "After eight years of this campaign, seven high-profile cases of modern-day slavery involving farmworkers, and the implementation of five working agreements, what is the food service industry waiting for? Today, our message to Aramark, Compass and Sodexo is clear: If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."
"Students remain committed to the principle of basic human rights for the workers harvesting the produce served on our campuses, and are demonstrating that commitment by taking a stand alongside farmworkers to demand change. It's time for Aramark, Compass and Sodexo to align themselves with that same principle by coming to the table and working with the CIW. Until that happens, this campaign will continue to escalate," said Meghan Cohorst of the Student/Farmworker Alliance.
BACKGROUND: Farmworkers who pick tomatoes for the corporate food industry are among the country's most exploited workers. Florida tomato pickers earn about 45 cents for every 32-lb. bucket of tomatoes they harvest - a rate that has not changed significantly in 30 years. Workers labor from dusk to dawn without the right to overtime pay, receive no benefits and are excluded from the right to organize. In the most extreme cases, workers are held against their will by employers through the threat of or use of physical violence. In the past eleven years, the Department of Justice has prosecuted seven cases of modern-day slavery - involving over 1,000 workers - in the Florida agricultural industry.