Community Commentary: Trader Joe's should join the Campaign for Fair Food

People often forget that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis, Tenn., while he was standing in solidarity with sanitation workers as they sought justice in their workplace.

I could think of no better way to honor his legacy than by celebrating his birthday continuing the struggle against injustice. I spent the weekend in Immokalee, Fla., with tomato farm workers. Like the sanitation workers of King's day, they held signs declaring, "I am a Man." Today's workers remind us "soy humano" — "I am human" — and thus deserve to be treated as such.

I first took notice of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) nearly a decade ago when they called an unprecedented boycott against Taco Bell to demand a penny more a pound. They realized that the growers were being squeezed and could not (and would not) increase their wages.

So they decided to go straight to the buyer. Their efforts have won over Taco Bell, McDonald's, Burger King, Subway and Whole Foods Market. Equally important as the money, if not more so, is the signing of an agreement under the Campaign for Fair Food, an effort that offers protection in the fields.

People still die in the fields from lack of water, are beaten by foremen, women are sexually abused and wages are stolen from workers. Until the CIW came together, there was no defense against these horrendous acts from taking place.

Visiting Immokalee allowed me to witness the living conditions, to see the fields, to speak with the farm workers in their own setting, and most importantly to witness the life-saving changes the CIW has fought for and won! However, their struggle is not over.

You might wonder how this affects us in Orange County and how we can effect change in Immokalee. We have a right to know that the food we buy has not been unjustly acquired!

Until corporations sign onto the Fair Food agreement, there is no guarantee that the workers will be treated fairly.

Taco Bell was the first to agree to sign; others have followed, but every corporation that buys tomatoes should be able to ensure consumers that they have not bought slave tomatoes.

Trader Joe's has not signed the Fair Food agreement. It presents itself to be thoughtful and caring, the neighborhood store, but it is time that it demonstrates its love of neighbor and sign the Fair Food agreement.

Let King not just be the man who gave us a day off, but the man who inspires us to change our world today.

Tell Trader Joe's to sign the contract and help to end poverty and slavery in the fields!

SARAH HALVERSON is a reverend at Fairview Community Church.

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