News in Farm Justice from Agrarian Trust Advisor Elizabeth Henderson

Farmworker Organizations Give Strong Support to the Agricultural Justice Project

By Elizabeth Henderson

Unique among domestic fair trade claims, farmworkers and farmers negotiated directly with one another to hammer out the standards of the Agricultural Justice Project (AJP). The goal of these standards, which are the basis of AJP’s Food Justice Certified label, is to change relationships among the people who work on farms and to gain fair prices and agreements for farmers so that they can pay living wages to their workers and to themselves. Despite the difficult economic times we are living through and the cheap food system that prevails in this country, there are farms that are able to meet these standards by placing as high a priority on treating their workers with respect as on using ecological growing practices. Swanton Berry Farm, one of the first two farms in California to earn the Food Justice Certified label, is going that extra mile because of their commitment to produce food of the highest quality: “Farm work at Swanton Berry Farm is an intellectual as well as physical process.  We depend on the ideas and observations of all employees. It takes a bit longer to do things when you ask several opinions about what should be done next, but in the end, we make better decisions.  We treat our employees as professionals, not cogs in a ‘food machine’.”

The Farmworker Support Committee (CATA – Comite de apoyo a los trabjadores agricolas) is one of the four partner organizations that cooperated in creating AJP and the Food Justice Certified label.  The farmworker members of the CATA board explain the years of time and energy they put into AJP in these words:

“We at CATA are committed to the Agricultural Justice Project because we believe it is a means to advancing the well-being of our membership, the migrant farmworker community, in their struggle for fair labor conditions, access to healthcare and local chemical-free food, and to be treated with dignity and respect. Created with input directly from our members, the AJP standards uphold a model for a sustainable food system that is inclusive and respectful of all people who labor within it. When buying Food Justice Certified products, consumers can feel confident in knowing that their food was produced under fair and transparent labor and trade practices. This connection between the different human links of the food chain is essential to raising the consciousness of consumption and to establishing the elements for a truly fair food system.”

CATA’s enthusiasm for AJP is echoed by other farmworker groups. Lideres Campesinas in California, Centro Campesino in Minnesota, the Farmworkers Association of Florida, the Agricultural Workers Alliance in Canada and Community to Community in Washington State  all supportd AJP. Rosalinda Guillen, who grew up in a farmworker family and has devoted her life to organizing and empowering farmworkers, has this to say:

“As an organizer for justice for farm workers for over 20 years I have seen the corporate
agricultural system exploit the earth, farm workers, small family farmers and undermine local
rural economies. At Community to Community Development we believe that implementing the
workplace standards of the Agricultural Justice Project will provide the environment at the
local level for consumers to really support local farm workers and family farmers by leveling
the playing field in the marketplace with a label that says it all; because farm workers are
involved in the oversight.”

When a farm is inspected through the AJP certification process, the inspector reviews the farm’s labor policies and checks employee files for evidence of safety trainings, fairness in wage rates, evaluations and terminations.  Along with the inspector, a trained farmworker from a farmworker organization interviews the workers on that farm separate from management with careful    confidentiality. The farmer, to comply with AJP standards, must recognize the right of employees to freedom of association whether that takes the form of two workers asking to discuss wage rates or the decision of all the workers to form a union. If an AJP certified farmer retaliates in any way against a farmworker who has raised an issue or made a complaint or if the farmer fires a worker without just cause, the farm risks losing the right to use the Food Justice Certified label.

The AJP standards for buyers from farms parallel these rigorous standards for farmers as employers.  To be Food Justice Certified, a store or restaurant must recognize farmers’ freedom to associate with other farmers to negotiate for pricing from a stronger position, and pay farmers a mutually negotiated price that covers the farm’s costs of production, in addition to other fair trade practices and terms. The store or restaurant must also meet the fair labor practices in the standards for its own employees.

Jose Manuel Guzman, a former mushroom worker and Lead Organizer at CATA, sums up the significance of AJP:

“The Agricultural Justice Project is of vital importance to farmworkers and their families. It promotes organic agriculture, helping workers to have a better understanding of how food can be grown in a natural, healthy way without putting them at risk of exposure to pesticides. The workers’ rights standards set by the project are more than just basic workers’ rights. They allow workers to collectively bargain and organize and create a space for dialogue between workers and farmers. They guarantee a fair and just treatment for all involved.”

For more information about AJP, see the website: www.agriculturaljusticeproject.org or contact agjusticeproject@gmail.com.

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