CIRS Blog about Rural California
By Gail Wadsworth and Elizabeth Henderson
The goal of fair labor standards is to achieve decent and humane working conditions for all employees. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal law which establishes minimum wage, overtime pay eligibility, recordkeeping, and child labor standards affecting full-time and part-time workers in the private sector and in federal, state, and local governments. Agriculture in the U.S. is exempt from several of the FSLA requirements, such as overtime pay and child labor laws.
Many consumers are not aware of these legal exemptions but are aware of poor working conditions for workers on farms. Several organizations are working within the U.S. to improve standards on farms for laborers.
The Fair World Project recently examined some of the key challenges facing farmworkers and analyzed seven of the eco-social certifications that appear on our food. They found two programs with strong standards and good enforcement to help ensure workers are well treated: the Fair Food Program and the Agricultural Justice Project.
Only one of these recommended certifiers actively operates in California, the Agricultural Justice Project (AJP). We recently contacted AJP to get some questions answered for consumers in California who are interested in eco-social justice certification.
Q: What is important for consumers to know about AJP and the involvement of workers in the standards?
A: Unique among domestic fair trade claims, farmworkers and farmers negotiated directly with one another to hammer out the standards of the Agricultural Justice Project (AJP).
Q: What is the ultimate goal of these standards?
A: The goal of these standards, which are the basis of AJP’s Food Justice Certified label, is to change relationships among the people who work on farms and to gain fair prices and agreements for farmers so that they can pay living wages to their workers and to themselves. Despite the difficult economic times we are living through and the cheap food system that prevails in this country, there are farms that are able to meet these standards by placing as high a priority on treating their workers with respect as on using ecological growing practices. Swanton Berry Farm in Pescadero is one of the first two farms in California to earn the Food Justice Certified label.
“Farm work at Swanton Berry Farm is an intellectual as well as physical process. We depend on the ideas and observations of all employees. It takes a bit longer to do things when you ask several opinions about what should be done next, but in the end, we make better decisions. We treat our employees as professionals, not cogs in a ‘food machine.'” Jim Cochrane, Swanton Berry
Q: Who created the Food Justice Certified label?
A: The Farmworker Support Committee (CATA – Comite de apoyo a los trabajadores agricolas) is one of the four partner organizations that cooperated in creating AJP and the Food Justice Certified label.
"We at CATA are committed to the Agricultural Justice Project because we believe it is a means to advancing the well-being of our membership, the migrant farmworker community, in their struggle for fair labor conditions, access to healthcare and local chemical-free food, and to be treated with dignity and respect. Created with input directly from our members, the AJP standards uphold a model for a sustainable food system that is inclusive and respectful of all people who labor within it. When buying Food Justice Certified products, consumers can feel confident in knowing that their food was produced under fair and transparent labor and trade practices. This connection between the different human links of the food chain is essential to raising the consciousness of consumption and to establishing the elements for a truly fair food system." Nelson Carrasquillo, Former CATA General Coordinator
Q: How do inspections take place?
A: When a farm is inspected through the AJP certification process, the inspector reviews the farm’s labor policies and checks employee files for evidence of safety trainings, fairness in wage rates, evaluations and terminations. Along with the inspector, a trained farmworker from a farmworker organization interviews the workers on that farm separate from management with careful confidentiality. The farmer, to comply with AJP standards, must recognize the right of employees to freedom of association whether that takes the form of two workers asking to discuss wage rates or the decision of all the workers to form a union. If an AJP certified farmer retaliates in any way against a farmworker who has raised an issue or made a complaint or if the farmer fires a worker without just cause, the farm risks losing the right to use the Food Justice Certified label.
Q: Can other businesses get certified by AJP, or just farms?
A: Yes. The AJP standards for buyers from farms parallel these rigorous standards for farmers as employers. To be Food Justice Certified, a store or restaurant must recognize farmers’ freedom to associate with other farmers to negotiate for pricing from a stronger position, and pay farmers a mutually negotiated price that covers the farm’s costs of production, in addition to other fair trade practices and terms. The store or restaurant must also meet the fair labor practices in the standards for its own employees.
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