Chipotle fair-food agreement is the latest win for Florida farmworkers

A six-year campaign for justice has ended with a big win for a Florida farmworkers' rights group.

Last week Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill signed an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) that will improve wages and working conditions for tomato pickers in the Sunshine State. The company has agreed to pay an extra penny per pound of tomatoes purchased for its 1,300 restaurants nationwide, with the money appearing as a bonus in workers' paychecks. CIW is a community-based organization whose over 4,000 members are mostly Latino, Mayan Indian, and Haitian immigrant farmworkers.

CIW's Gerardo Reyes said the agreement "marks a turning point in the sustainable food movement as a whole, whereby, thanks to Chipotle's leadership, farmworkers are finally recognized as true partners -- every bit as vital as farmers, chefs, and restaurants -- in bringing 'good food' to our tables."

Chipotle is the 11th company to join CIW's Fair Food Program. The others are fast-food giants Taco Bell, McDonald's, Burger King and Subway; grocery chains Whole Foods and Trader Joe's; and food service providers Bon Appetit Management Co., Compass Group, Aramark and Sodexo. CIW combines worker-led organizing with public education and coalition-building with student, faith and community groups to pressure companies to take action.

"We believe that this agreement underscores our long-standing commitment to the people who produce the food we serve in our restaurants," said Chris Arnold, Chipotle's communications director (at center in photo above).

CIW launched its Fair Food Campaign began in 2001, organizing the first-ever farmworker boycott of a major fast-food company and calling on Taco Bell to take responsibility for human rights abuses in the fields where its produce is grown. In 2005, Taco Bell agreed to meet all of CIW's demands, providing the first-ever ongoing payment by a fast-food company to farmworkers in its supply chain and establishing the first enforceable Code of Conduct for agricultural suppliers to the fast-food industry. The program provides for independent audits to ensure compliance.

In November 2010, the CIW signed an agreement with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange that extends the Fair Food Program's principles -- including a cooperative complaint resolution system and a participatory health and safety program -- to over 90 percent of Florida's tomato fields.

Organizers with the Campaign for Fair Food say they plan to continue working with participating Florida growers to ensure the agreements function as designed. They also want to continue expanding their foothold in the supermarket sector. One of the group's latest targets has been Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets, one of the nation's biggest purchasers of Florida tomatoes.

(Photo from Coalition of Immokalee Workers. From left to right, the CIW's Oscar Otzoy, Chipotle's Chris Arnold, and the CIW's Gerardo Reyes, joined in the background by student and faith allies, at the Oct. 4 signing ceremony at Chipotle's Denver headquarters.)