The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a Florida-based labor rights group, was in Washington, D.C. this week to participate in a Senate hearing about the working conditions for tomato pickers in the fields. The CIW, alongside Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who chaired the hearing, convened with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
“The American consumer does not want the tomatoes they eat to be picked by workers who are grossly mistreated, underpaid, and in some case even kept in chains,” said Sanders before the hearing. “This must not happen in the United States of America in 2008.”
At the hearing, on Tuesday, April 15, there were no Republicans in sight. Charlie Frost, a Collier County Sheriff’s Detective spoke with the members of the committee: “Today’s form of slavery does not bear the overt nature of pre-Civil War society, but it is none the less heinous and reprehensible.”
Though Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (which to date refuses to support the penny per pound contribution from corporations to farmworkers) insists there is no slavery in the commercial tomato industry, its executive vice president, Reginald L. Brown, reluctantly agreed at the conclusion of the two-hour hearing that the exchange would cooperate if the committee requested a Government Accountability Office study of conditions among tomato workers.
However, Brown warned he could not guarantee the individual companies that make up the exchange would cooperate.
“Why is there still slavery and brutal exploitation in the food we eat in the 21st century?” asked CIW Co-Founder Lucas Benitez, recipient of the 2003 RFK Human Rights Award. “Why can’t this country’s trillion dollar food industry do better by workers who sacrifice body and soul to put food on our table?”
Sources: PRESS RELEASE: Farmworkers, Eric Schlosser to Testify at Senate Hearing on Slavery and Abuses in Florida’s Tomato Fields from Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights; Modern Slavery in Immokalee from The Nation via Yahoo; Sheriff: There is slavery in Florida tomato fields from The PalmBeachPost.com