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Florida Farmworkers Win Chipotle’s Support in Bid for Improved Conditions

Farmworkers win another round in the fight to improve working conditions and compensation.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers won another gain for its people in the field today. The fast-food restaurant Chipotle committed itself to CIW’s Fair Food Program after weeks of public pressure campaigns by the farmworkers’ organization.

“With this agreement, we are laying down a foundation upon which we all – workers, growers and Chipotle – can build a strongerFloridatomato industry for the future,” said Gerardo Reyes of the CIW in a press release. “But more than this, today’s news marks a turning point in the sustainable food movement as a whole, whereby, thanks to Chipotle’s leadership, farm workers are finally recognized as true partners … in bringing ‘good food’ to our tables.”

Under the program, Chipotle signs a legally binding contract to pay a price premium for tomatoes they buy from the farmworkers. It also declares its support for the code of conduct that standardizes conditions in theFloridatomato industry. Thousands of farmworkers will get a penny more for every pound of tomatoes they pick, a voice in decisions about health care and working conditions and a third-party auditor to monitor conditions to ensure that no sexual discrimination or child labor occurs.

Perhaps most importantly, the agreement keeps Chipotle from “buying tomatoes from growers’ where workers rights are violated,” according to an open letter from CIW to the company.

Farm work conditions, particularly in the $620 million tomato industry, still bear a resemblance to the 1960 documentary “Harvest of Shame.” Workers work long hours for low pay and are at risk for trafficking, abuse and wage theft.

The penny-per-pound demand has been used to great effect against the 11 multi-million-dollar companies they have already convinced to sign on to the Fair Food Program. These include Subway, McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell.

The group has held a “truth tour” against McDonald’s, fasted for fair food “so our children won’t have to” against Publix Supermarkets and led a boycott of Taco Bell.

Chipotle’s second-quarter earnings in 2012 surged 61 percent, both issues the Immokalee workers used to pressure the company to live up to its “sustainable image.”

In a press release after the decision, Chipotle said: “Chipotle has an unmatched track record driving positive change in the nation’s food supply and is continuously working to find better, more sustainable sources for all of the ingredients we use – sources that produce food in ways that demonstrate respect for the land, farm animals and the people involved,” said Chris Arnold, communications director at Chipotle, in a press release. “We believe that this agreement underscores our long-standing commitment to the people who produce the food we serve in our restaurants.”