Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm dissected yet another South Florida slavery case in his December 16 piece, How About A Side Order of Human Rights?:
The workers trapped on the Navarrete work crew told of a harrowing existence, forced to work for meager wages while accruing charges for two meager meals a day, with extra charges tacked on for beer, soda, even water, until the debits outstrapped their wages.
Quitting was no option. Anyone who attempted to leave the Navarretes, they said, were hunted down, beaten, brought back to the slave house.
… The details coming out in federal court made for a shocking story, except farm crew slavery stories and the brutal exploitation of undocumented workers have long since lost their shock value in Florida. The Navarrete case made The Naples Daily News, but the state’s major media outlets paid little attention.
No one really wants to know about the origins of those cheap tomatoes.
Grimm may be wrong about that. The battle between the Campaign for Fair Food and the fractious Burger King has drawn the attention of the national media, from Glamour Magazine to The Nation.
Glamour Magazine, known for its fashion tips and sex advice, joins the dialog this December with a piece that profiles the anti-slavery efforts of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW): “You may consider calories and carbs when ordering a burger–but odds are you don’t worry that the tomato on it might have been picked by a woman or man held in forced labor.”
Marching, dancing, singing, shouting, pushing strollers, banging drums, bearing puppets of “the King” and cut-out buckets of tomatoes and flags inscribed with “Respect” and “Hope,” the 1,500-strong pageant against poverty paraded from the offices of BK co-owner Goldman Sachs to the King’s own 1 Whopper Way.
There, they delivered hundreds of worn work boots belonging to farmworkers who could not make it out of the fields that day. “Doubt our poverty?” they asked. “Walk in our shoes.”
Were BK executives to walk in their shoes, workers say, they would know that a penny more per pound–which would cost the company all of $250,000 a year–could mean the difference between their families getting fed or going hungry, getting care or going sick.
… But instead of working with the CIW, the King has launched a public relations blitz and teamed up with a notorious agribusiness lobby, the Florida Tomato Growers’ Exchange, in its own penny-pinching counter-operation.
With BK’s backing, the Exchange has set out not only to sabotage the new campaign, but to dismantle the penny-per-pound agreements won by the CIW at Yum! Brands and McDonald’s. Calling the demand “pretty much near un-American,” the Exchange now threatens $100,000 fines against growers who pass on the extra penny.
The stories are coming out and more are joining in the effort against modern slavery. As Gould-Wartofsky writes in The Nation, “To some, it looks like the new wave of the anti-sweatshop and global justice movements first seen in the 1990s–only the sweatshops are closer to home. To others, it looks like a new labor movement, a new student movement, a new immigrants’ movement. The Campaign for Fair Food is all of these things, and at its core, it is a movement concerning some of the most basic struggles in American life: slavery versus freedom, fast food versus fair food, community versus corporate control, dehumanization versus human dignity.”
It’s a start to bring the stories of the oppressed to the attention of the nation, but there is much to be done. Visit the Campaign for Fair Food, The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and the Student/Farmworker Alliance for information about taking action.
Information for this piece via the CIW Listserve.