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Food giant Aramark agrees to pay increase for tomato farmworkers

Apr. 1, 2010
Coalition of Immokalee Workers member Lucas Benitez, left, chats with Bon Appetit CEO Fedele Bauccio. The CIW has gotten another food-service giant to agree to pay extra for tomatoes.
Coalition of Immokalee Workers member Lucas Benitez, left, chats with Bon Appetit CEO Fedele Bauccio. The CIW has gotten another food-service giant to agree to pay extra for tomatoes. / The News-Press file photo
Tomato pickers work at Taylor & Fulton Tomatoes in Immokalee in 2006. Their fight for better wages is paying off. / the associated press file photo


When they signed on to the Coalition of Immokalee Workerís Campaign for Fair Food:

Yum Brands (parent company of Taco Bell and KFC): 2005

McDonaldís: 2007

Burger King: 2008

Whole Foods: 2008

Subway: 2008

Compass: September 2009

Aramark: April 2010

planned march and protest

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is gearing up for a march and protest April 16 to 18 at Publix Super Marketsí Lakeland headquarters.

The goal is to convince the supermarket giant to sign on to the Campaign for Fair Food and to stop buying tomatoes from two growers, Six Ls and Pacific, where it is alleged enslaved crews were made to work.

Leading the marchers to Publix will be the groupís Florida Modern-Day Slavery Museum, a white cargo truck thatís a replica of one in which workers in the regionís most recent slavery case were confined.

It also contains a number of exhibits about the seven federal slavery cases successfully prosecuted in Florida during the last 15 years.

Learn more and see a video about the march at
Call 657-8311 or visit freedom_march/ museum.html for more information.


1:10 A.M. — The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has scored another victory in its Campaign for Fair Food.

Food service giant Aramark agreed to pay extra for Florida tomatoes produced under a strict code of conduct.

The $12 billion Philadelphia-based Aramark supplies food to corporations, schools, health care facilities and sports venues around the world (including FGCU and Fort Myers' City of Palms Park) and is one of the nation's biggest private companies, with 255,000 employees and clients in 22 countries.

Farmworkers helped develop the agreement, which mandates a strict code of conduct for growers. Aramark also will pay a 1.5-cent premium for every pound of tomatoes picked, with the extra money going directly to harvesters, who will now earn 82 cents for each 32-pound bucket they pick, up from 50 cents per bucket. The raise means their annual earnings could rise from about $10,000 to between $16,000 and $17,000.

There are at least 30,000 migrant farmworkers in Florida's $400 million tomato industry, from which 95 percent of the nation's tomatoes come between October and June.

Aramark, which did not respond to requests for comment, joins Compass, the world's largest food-service company as well as the world's multinational fast food leaders - Yum Brands, McDonald's, Burger King and Subway - and the leading natural food chain, Whole Foods Markets, to become the next global corporation to join the Campaign for Fair Food.

In the past, the money pledged by the other companies hadn't reached workers because the powerful tomato industry group, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, refused to pass it on, threatening to fine any member that did.

That has changed. Last year, East Coast, Florida's No. 3 grower, dropped out of the exchange in order to pass on the increase and independent Ladymoon Farms signed on as well. Then in February, the growers' exchange said its members were free to pass along extra money to workers.

The odd man out in the food-service industry is Sodexo, the only one of the three major global players yet to sign the agreement.

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The agreement means coalition partners will favor Florida growers who work to meet higher standards and will shun those associated with labor abuses such as Six Ls and Pacific, two of the state's largest tomato producers.

Last year, members of Immokalee's Navarrete family went to federal prison for enslaving 12 workers, whom they brought to Six Ls and Pacific fields, in what Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Molloy called one of Southwest Florida's "biggest, ugliest slavery cases ever."

For a nonprofit, grass-roots group to have gotten so many huge corporations to join the campaign is a major accomplishment, said Tom Philpott, food editor at, an online magazine that tracks national environmental and food trends.

"Almost every one of those companies fought back vigorously at first," Philpott said, "and for a little scrappy farmworker group to face down those corporations is phenomenal."

The coalition's Greg Asbed largely credits Aramark's agreement to successful student organizing. The group worked with the Student Farmworker Alliance, another nonprofit with members on campuses across the country.

For 26-year-old FGCU political science major Angela Cisneros, the campaign is more than political; it's personal.

The U.S.-born Cisneros, the daughter of former Immokalee farmworkers who are now U.S. citizens, remembers living in a Six Ls labor camp as a child as her family faced "a hard life that a regular American wouldn't be able to fathom."

Getting the FGCU student senate to pass a resolution calling on Aramark to work with the coalition was hard, she said.

"This is a fairly conservative area and the first time we went before the student government, we were shot down," she said. But the group persisted, and after a series of events, including a two-day campus visit by the coalition's Florida Modern-Day Slavery Museum, the student senate passed the resolution 21-8.

"Some people think all college students these days are apathetic and apolitical, but we're not," Cisneros said.

The last major food-service company in the groups' sights is Sodexo, which has refused to join the coalition, although company spokesman Alfred King said in a statement that a Sodexo team has been talking with coalition members and working to "find ways to incorporate the principles being discussed with (the coalition) into our operations."

King said the company is reinforcing its supplier code of conduct and "remains committed to our longstanding track record of ethics and corporate citizenship. ... In fact, our corporate policies are aligned with the long-term goals of the coalition."

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