Here’s Greg introducing the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Hey – My name is Greg Asbed, and I work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW).  The CIW is an organization mainly made up of farmworkers picking fruits and vegetables for poverty wages in Florida (US) and we have just over 4,000 members.
Immokalee is a town that sits atop Florida’s Everglades and is the heart of Florida’s billion-dollar agricultural industry.
We’ll be your host today for the BBC’s “World Have Your Say,” which is great, though the reason we are hosting the show isn’t so great: There have been several federal prosecutions for slavery, involving over 1,000 workers, in the past dozen years here in Florida, earning our town the title of “ground zero for modern-day slavery” from federal civil rights prosecutors.
So, as your host, we’d like to start the conversation today with a question: If there were two tomatoes in the store, one labeled “Picked by workers paid a living wage and treated with dignity” and the other labeled “Picked by workers paid a poverty wage, subject to verbal and physical abuse, and in the most extreme cases, forced to work in conditions of modern-day slavery,” would you buy the tomato possibly picked by slaves?
That’s a question we at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) ask consumers all the time, and the answer, almost invariably, is a resounding “No.”
First, some background:  Working conditions for farmworkers in the United States, particularly on the East Coast, have forever been almost unimaginably harsh — hot, heavy, dangerous work for the worst wages of any job in the country, topped off with verbal and, all too often, physical abuse.
In fact, in Florida’s fields alone there have been seven federal prosecutions for slavery, involving over 1,000 workers, in the past dozen years.
The conditions were most famously dubbed America’s “Harvest of Shame” in a seminal documentary fifty years ago by CBS’s Edward R. Murrow.  But today, fifty years later, the CIW is leading the fight to end the harvest of shame once and for all.
Part of the CIW’s work is aimed at bringing slavery operations to justice, and we do so by working with state and federal law enforcement officials to investigate and prosecute bosses who would use violence or the threat of violence to force their workers to work against their will.
But another part, the more public face of our work, is aimed at changing the market conditions that allow slavery to fester behind the products that we all eat every day.  The CIW’s “Campaign for Fair Food”  is specifically aimed at eliminating slavery and improving the underlying exploitative conditions that give rise to slavery in the Florida tomato industry.
The campaign is based on the simple question posed to consumers at the top of the post.  The goal of the campaign is to hold the major food retail corporations accountable for the human rights violations in their suppliers’ operations, and to harness their unparalleled market power to demand more humane, more modern conditions in Florida’s fields.
The challenge for our campaign lies both in  building awareness that exploitation is the norm today in US agriculture, and in building the alternative so that consumers have an available, and transparent, choice.  As US Senator Bernie Sanders says, “Slavery is the extreme, the norm is a disaster.”
If you are interested in learning more about the CIW’s work or the Campaign for Fair Food, you can visit the CIW’s website today.

9 Responses to “Here’s Greg introducing the Coalition of Immokalee Workers”

  1. 1 Dennis
    January 11, 2010 at 17:37

    Hi, were are the external link to the CIW?


    • 2 Dennis
      January 11, 2010 at 22:10

      Hi Heba–Found the link for the CIW and; I found that it was informative and supportive of the Immigrant workers in Immokalee….


      ~Dennis Junior~

  2. 3 Bert
    January 11, 2010 at 17:44

    The question you ask:

    “So, as your host, we’d like to start the conversation today with a question: If there were two tomatoes in the store, one labeled ‘Picked by workers paid a living wage and treated with dignity’ and the other labeled ‘Picked by workers paid a poverty wage, subject to verbal and physical abuse, and in the most extreme cases, forced to work in conditions of modern-day slavery,’ would you buy the tomato possibly picked by slaves?”

    can only be answered if the comparative price is shown. Because in spite of the rhetoric, people in the US do shop at Walmart. People look for the lowest price, to try to maximize their OWN standard of living. That’s the reality.

    If people working for slave wages did not exist, then prices for goods or services would go up, and the consumer would pay more. And most likely, consume less of the more expensive products.

    I think that this worker’s rights controversy is linked to the undocumented worker controversy. The question being, why are businesses finding it possible to hire people who will work for slave wages? Isn’t the lackadaisical attitude toward undocumented workers only contributing to this situation?

  3. 4 TomK in Mpls
    January 11, 2010 at 18:23

    In buying anything, I first look for a certain minimum of quality. Once I have eliminated any unacceptable product, I go by low price. But there are a few exceptions. For other personal reasons, I do not buy Disney or McDonalds. Some may boycott KFC for perceived racism.

    In general, I do not support criminal organizations. When companies hire illegal workers, the are supporting illegal activities. I wish there was an effort to identify and stop these companies. If I could identify them and have an option, I would boycott them.

  4. 5 JanB
    January 11, 2010 at 18:35

    Bert is right. Pricing matters. I’m sure even the poor workers of Immokalee wear cheap clothes that were made by children in some Asian country.
    And it’s not always because people are cheap bastards. Yes, many people believe that being a white European or American equals being rich but this is simply not true. In fact, up until the mid-20th century goods like coffee, chocolate and even meat were too expensive for most Europeans and Americans, who themselves worked under deplorable conditions. Even now there are those in the United States who simply cannot afford to buy the more expensive goods that were not made by poor laborers.

    Still, slavery is wrong and workers should be paid minimum wages.

  5. 6 Anthony
    January 11, 2010 at 18:39

    Wait, so HOW are they able to do this? If these people leave, will they be hunted down an killed? That’s REAL slavery. I think we are just hearing one side of this.

    -Anthony, LA, CA

  6. January 11, 2010 at 19:59

    WOrkers do not want to be here, thay are here because thay do not have other options, with american subsidies and the free markets, farmers and workers in Mexico cannot compete so they lose everything, and there fore they come to the USA to survive.
    Also Americans have to take responsabilities for their acts: slevery, bringing contamitated food that cannot sell in the USA to third world countries, to still make DDT and sell it to tird world countries, etc.

    • 8 TomK in Mpls
      January 11, 2010 at 20:50

      You are bringing up other problems. All equally important. We need fair trade. Other countries need better import law. But that does not justify illegal workers. It is another problem to be solved with as little government as possible.

  7. 9 JOHN G. HEIM
    January 12, 2010 at 00:27

    The outrage of our people with a country who did away with slavery so many years ago is still right out side your door and so is the slavery conditions. President Obama did declare January a national month of recognition to end modern day slavery, however the politics involved with the Florida Growers Exchange has halted the penny per pound program by being a huge lobbyist the Growers do nothing to follow along with the agreements that they had made with the C.I.W. There seems to be no trickle down effect for the workers themselves as has been the case for several years now. The actual human rights violations in the fields of Immokalee,Fl. are of a level that one could most likely not be able to comprehend, the pay rate has not changed in decades as the cost of living goes up, the families being destroyed by greed alone are enough to make your head spin; if you are in the belief of the notion “One Human Family”. There must be away I thought to see this injustice end, yet I truly believe that racism shall continue in the U.S to make it that there will always be some minority group who will get treated with such human disrespect. Ignorance only teaches more ignorance and that is why I applaud the C.I.W for doing its part to end the ignorance taught in schools to our kids and to to ensure that greed shall be ended by proclaiming “People first, not profit first” Kudos to the entire Immokalee crew and I personally shall always be there in your corner to spread the good word of our hard workers in the fields, for it is only common sense to teach all to end any form of ignorance, slavery, and treating humans with no dignity.
    John G. Heim.

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