There must be something in the air today, because everything’s coming up Chipotle Mexican Grill at Food Digital today. Earlier we brought you some fun Friday news about the latest video for the chain’s yearly Halloween fundraiser, but then we came across this piece of news and we couldn’t let it slide. As of yesterday, according new reports, Chipotle has signed an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to offer support and work together toward better wages and working conditions for those that serve as the backbone of Florida’s troubled tomato industry*.
The Fair Food Program is simple, but provides immense benefits – education for farm workers about their rights, health and safety standards, third party audits, zero tolerance for forced labor and child labor, and an increase in pay supported by a premium of an extra penny per pound paid by participating companies. A penny per pound may not sound like much, but considering the sheer amount of tomatoes consumed in the United States, it adds up fast: according to the CIW website, $4 million in Fair Food Program premiums were paid out to tomato farm workers in the year 2011 alone. That’s a lot of help toward these workers achieving livable wages, and all for an extra fraction of a cent that shouldn’t be offensive to anyone already down for a $7 burrito.
Chipotle Mexican Grill is the eleventh company to join with the program, putting them in good company with a range of other foodservice giants like Yum Brands, Burger King, Whole Foods Market, Compass Group, and, most recently, Trader Joe’s. In response to the finalization of the agreement, CIW spokesperson Gerardo Reyes issued the following statement:
“With this agreement, we are laying down a foundation upon which we all – workers, growers, and Chipotle – can build a stronger Florida tomato industry for the future. But more than this, today’s news 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 communications director also issued a statement on behalf of the company:
“Chipotle has an unmatched track record driving positive change in the nation's food supply and is continuously working to find better, more sustainable sources for all of the ingredients we use — sources that produce food in ways that demonstrate respect for the land, farm animals, and the people involved. We believe that this agreement underscores our long-standing commitment to the people who produce the food we serve in our restaurants.”
While any time would be a good time for Chipotle to sign on with the CIW’s Fair Food Program, the timing of this agreement is especially visceral in that it comes right before the onset of the winter growing season when most of the tomatoes used in the United States start coming from Florida’s vast tomato farms. While the impact of Chipotle’s induction into the program remains to be seen, any chance to shine a light on this issue, improve the lives of farm workers, and elevate the industry as a whole is immensely valuable. As business after business recognizes the worth of this agreement, perhaps it will inspire even more to follow suit.
*For more information on the subject of the Florida tomato industry, read Barry Estabrook’s Tomatoland. Seriously, read it. Here’s the original Gourmet article that the book grew from, and an excerpt to get you started.