Working to Implement Systemic Changes to Protect Farmworkers

Farmworkers are on the frontlines of the climate crisis and clapping your hands for their essential (and dangerous) work won’t truly help them. They need real change in the current systems that govern farm work. Here’s a rundown of a few of the organizations working to develop programs that protect farmworkers: 


Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) 

CIW is a worker-based organization that is internationally recognized for its efforts to fight human trafficking and gender-based violence in agriculture. They have also developed a Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) paradigm through their Fair Food Program, of which Bon Appétit was the first food service signatory along with 14 other multi-billion dollar food retailers.This worker-led, market-enforced approach aims to protect human rights in the supply chain and provide increased wages through paying workers an additional penny per pound of produce picked. 


Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) 

EFI is a collaborative effort by growers, farmworkers, and retailers to build supply chain transparency and tackle labor, food safety, and sustainability issues within the food industry. Among other important factors, an EFI certification guarantees farmworkers are provided fair treatment and a healthier and safer work environment. Additionally, farmworkers are included in decisions on EFI-certified farms. EFI standards are robust and transparent. Standards are set and overseen by a committee of organizations including Farmworker Justice and United Farm Workers. Bon Appétit is a founding member of EFI and buys certified strawberries and tomatoes.  


United Farm Workers (UFW) 

The UFW is one of the United States’ oldest and largest farmworker unions. They remain an activist organization dedicated to organizing farmworkers mainly in California and promoting systemic change in the industry. Victories have included some of the first state laws providing overtime pay for farmworkers and comprehensive standards to prevent heat related death and illness. One of their largest aims currently is to lobby for similar standards at a national level. UFW is also a founding member of EFI.  


State and Federal Regulation 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has recently announced they will begin drafting a rule to protect workers from heat exposure, but the expected timeline for finalization is 7-12 years. While this is in the works, they are also prioritizing investigations into heat hazards reported by workers.  

Because there is no real heat stress rule at a federal level, a select number of states have passed their own heat standards. Oregon, Washington, and California have all passed robust standards whereas Minnesota has developed standards for indoor workers and Nevada, Maryland, and Colorado have passed laws requiring state agencies to develop rules.  

California farmers are required to provide workers with cool drinking water, shade and rest breaks when temperatures hit 95 degrees, and to give workers the option to rest at temperatures of 80 degrees and above. 

But are these standards working? Recent research suggests California’s regulations are helping; heat is causing fewer workplace injuries since the state adopted its standard. But farmworkers are still being injured and dying from heat-related illness. Emory University professor Roxana Chicas who recently performed a study on heat stress in Florida farmworkers points out that the same kidney injuries found in Florida workers have been identified in California workers, indicating that the state’s heat standard still might not be enough in the face of climate change. 

Ultimately, the biggest obstacle to protecting farmworkers is that enforcement of these regulations is a challenge at the state level and is expected to be one on a national level.