Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Coalition of Immokalee Workers
Coalition of Immokalee Workers logo.jpg

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is a non-profit organization (calling itself "a community-based worker organization") in Immokalee, Florida whose members are "largely Latino, Haitian, and Mayan Indian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state."[1]

Founded in 1993, the group has seen major success on several fronts. The CIW's Campaign for Fair Food has resulted in agreements with major food retailers such as Taco Bell, McDonald's, Compass Group, and Whole Foods Market to improve wages and working conditions for farmworkers in the tomato supply chain. The campaign has also resulted in a historic agreement with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange to implement these reforms on 90% of the state's tomato farms, effecting more than 30,000 farmworkers and 30,000 acres of production.[2][3]

Additionally, the CIW has aided in the investigation and federal prosecution of several slavery operations in Florida agriculture.[4][5] In 2010, the CIW was recognized for these efforts by the U.S. Department of State as a “hero” in the global anti-trafficking movement. Luis CdeBaca, Ambassador-at-Large of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, stated during the recognition ceremony that the Coalition of Immokalee Workers "have been important partners and, more importantly, an independent and pressing voice as they uncover slavery rings, tap the power of the workers, and hold companies and governments accountable."[6]


Early history

The CIW, initially called the Southwest Florida Farmworker Project, was formed in 1993 in Immokalee, Florida, the epicenter of the state's $600 million tomato industry.[7] The group's organizing philosophy is based on principles of popular education and leadership development. One of the CIW's first accomplishments was to establish a cooperative to sell staple foods and other necessities at cost in order to combat price-gouging by local merchants. Today, the CIW also owns and operates WCIW-LP (107.9 FM, "Radio Conciencia"), a low-power FM radio station that features music, news, and educational programing in several languages.[8]

Between 1995 and 2000, the CIW organized several major actions to protest declining real wages for tomato harvesters as well as frequent violence from supervisors towards field workers. This period included community-wide work stoppages in 1995, 1997 and 1999; a 30-day hunger strike undertaken by six members in 1998; and a 230-mile march from Ft. Myers to Orlando in 2000. By 1998, these protests “won industry-wide raises of 13-25% (translating into several million dollars annually for the community in increased wages).... Those raises brought the tomato picking piece rate back to pre-1980 levels (the piece rate had fallen below those levels over the course of the intervening two decades), but wages remained below poverty level and continuing improvement was slow in coming.”[9]

Campaign for Fair Food

Taco Bell Boycott

To overcome this impasse, the CIW launched a boycott of Taco Bell in 2001, holding the company accountable for the wages and working conditions of farmworkers in its tomato supply chain. The CIW argued that when major buyers such as Taco Bell leverage their volume purchasing power to demand discounts from their suppliers, they create strong downward pressure on wages and working conditions in these suppliers' operations. A 2004 study by Oxfam America confirmed this trend: “Squeezed by the buyers of their produce, growers pass on the costs and risks imposed on them to those on the lowest rung of the supply chain: the farmworkers they employ.”[10]

During the Taco Bell Boycott, the CIW worked closely with religious and community groups and a student network, the Student/Farmworker Alliance, to pressure Taco Bell from different angles. On March 8, 2005, Yum! Brands, Inc., parent company of Taco Bell, agreed to all of the CIW's demands,[11] including:

  • The first-ever direct, ongoing payment by a fast-food industry leader to farmworkers in its supply chain to address sub-standard farm labor wages (nearly doubling the percentage of the final retail price that goes to the workers who pick the produce);
  • The first-ever enforceable Code of Conduct for agricultural suppliers in the fast-food industry (which includes the CIW as part of the investigative body for monitoring worker complaints);
  • Market incentives for agricultural suppliers willing to respect their workers’ human rights, even when those rights are not guaranteed by law;
  • 100% transparency for Taco Bell’s tomato purchases in Florida.[12]

Fast food

After the Taco Bell Boycott, the Campaign for Fair Food shifted its focus to the rest of the fast-food industry. In response to the campaign, McDonald’s helped create an industry-controlled code of conduct known as SAFE (Socially Accountable Farm Employers) that the CIW and its allies deemed insufficient.[13][14] On April 9, 2007, an agreement between McDonalds and the CIW was announced at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia.[15] The agreement, which met the standards previously set by the Taco Bell accord, also included a commitment by McDonald's to work with the CIW to develop an industry-wide third-party mechanism to monitor conditions and investigate abuses in the fields.[16]

In May 2008, at the U.S. Capitol, the CIW announced an agreement with Burger King. The world's second-largest burger chain had originally strongly opposed the campaign, even going so far as to hire a private investigative firm to provide information on the Student/Farmworker Alliance.[17] As part of the announcement, Burger King’s chief executive, John W. Chidsey, apologized for prior negative remarks directed towards the CIW and went on to praise the group's efforts.[18] Subway, the largest fast-food buyer of Florida tomatoes, signed an agreement with the CIW six months later in December 2008.[19] With this agreement, the world's four largest fast-food companies were now supporting the campaign. The CIW has an unresolved campaign against Chipotle Mexican Grill.[20]


Throughout 2009 and 2010, the Student/Farmworker Alliance's "Dine with Dignity" campaign targeted the foodservice industry since many of these companies operate on college campuses. During this period, the CIW reached agreements with Bon Appétit Management Company,[21] Compass Group,[22] Aramark,[23] and Sodexo.[24]


In September 2008, the CIW broke ground in the supermarket industry by signing an agreement with Whole Foods Market. Karen Christensen, a Whole Foods executive explained, “We commend the CIW for their advocacy on behalf of these workers. After carefully evaluating the situation in Florida, we felt that an agreement of this nature was in line with our core values and was in the best interest of the workers.”[25] The Whole Foods agreement marked the first time a retailer agreed to support the CIW initiative without extended public protests.

As of 2011, the CIW and its allies are focused on the supermarket industry leaders who remain uncommitted to the Campaign for Fair Food, including Publix,[26] Trader Joe's,[27] Kroger, and Ahold brands Giant and Stop & Shop.[28]

Florida Tomato Growers Exchange


In November 2007, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE), an agricultural cooperative that provides its grower members with limited antitrust protection for marketing their products, announced that the Taco Bell/Yum and McDonald's deals "will not be executed and now are considered moot."[29] Citing antitrust concerns, the FTGE threatened its members with $100,000 fines for cooperating with McDonald's or Yum Brands. One month later, FTGE Vice President Reggie Brown explained, “I think it is un-American when you get people outside your business to dictate terms of business to you."[30] As a result of the FTGE's resistance, the penny-per-pound funds accrued during the stalemate were held in escrow.

On April 15, 2008, the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) held hearings on "Ending Abuses and Improving Working Conditions for Tomato Workers" in which Reggie Brown claimed farmworkers earned an average wage of "between $10.50 and $14.86 per hour." Lucas Benitez of the CIW and Senators Bernie Sanders (VT-I) and Dick Durbin (IL-D) disputed Brown's claim by citing contradictory evidence. The senators also scrutinized the legal basis for the FTGE's resistance to the Campaign for Fair Food.[31]


In November 2010, an agreement was reached between the CIW and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange to extend "Fair Food principles – including a strict code of conduct, a cooperative complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process – to over 90% of the Florida tomato industry."[32]. The agreement covers more than 30,000 workers and 30,000 acres of production. Funds held in escrow during the stalemate will be distributed to workers, as well as future funds collected under any new or existing agreements with retailers. Workers could receive an increase in annual wages from $10,000-12,000 a year to $17,000 if additional large buyers agree to the increase.[33][34]

In the joint press release,[35] FTGE Vice President Reggie Brown said of the agreement:

We realize that this is a work in progress and this partnership will get stronger over time. It will not be completed overnight. As we move forward, we can be certain that labor complaints will continue to arise in the foreseeable future, but it is how we deal with these complaints in this new partnership that will serve to demonstrate that we are serious and that our approach is working. As time goes by, we are confident that we will be able to weed out the bad actors and, working together, build a stronger, more sustainable industry that will be better equipped than ever to thrive in an increasingly competitive market place.

In the same release, Lucas Benitez of the CIW added:

This is a watershed moment in the history of Florida agriculture. “With this agreement, the Florida tomato industry – workers and growers alike – is coming together in partnership to turn the page on the conflict and stagnation of the past and instead forge a new and stronger industry. Make no mistake, there is still much to be done. This is the beginning, not the end, of a very long journey. But with this agreement, the pieces are now in place for us to get to work on making the Florida tomato industry a model of social accountability for the 21st century.

In an editorial, the New York Times described the agreement as a "remarkable victory in a 15-year struggle for better pay and working conditions... The Immokalee victory won’t impose fairness overnight, but after generations of exploitation, part of the farm industry is pointing in the right direction."[36]

Anti-Slavery Campaign

The CIW has developed an internationally recognized "worker-based approach to eliminating modern-day slavery in the agricultural industry. The CIW helps fight this crime by uncovering, investigating, and assisting in the federal prosecution of slavery rings preying on hundreds of farmworkers. In such situations, captive workers are held against their will by their employers through threats and, all too often, the actual use of violence – including beatings, shootings, and pistol-whippings."[37] The CIW is also attempting to structurally eliminate the root causes of modern-day agricultural slavery – farmworker poverty and powerlessness – through the Campaign for Fair Food.

The CIW is a founding member of the national Freedom Network U.S.A to Empower Victims of Slavery and Trafficking. Additionally, the CIW is a regional coordinator for the Freedom Network Training Institute on Human Trafficking (FNTI). In this capacity, the CIW trains state and federal law enforcement and NGOs on how to identify and assist people held in slavery operations.

Other selected anti-slavery partnerships and collaborations include

  • Legislature-appointed member, Florida Statewide Task Force on Human Trafficking
  • Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement (FDLE), curriculum for Advanced Investigative Techniques in Human Trafficking
  • Collier County Sheriff’s Department Anti-Trafficking Unit
  • US Attorney’s Anti-Trafficking Task Forces, Tampa and Miami districts
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I), Supervisory Special Agents In-Service trainings
  • North Carolina State Troopers Training Academy, training
  • U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Anti-Trafficking Unit, Washington, DC[38]

In 2010, the CIW developed a mobile Florida Modern-Day Slavery Museum that has toured the eastern U.S. extensively.[39][40] The Village Voice wrote that the museum "may be Florida's most important new attraction."[41]

Awards and recognition

The CIW has received a wide array of honors and recognition,[42] including:

  • 2010 TIP Hero Award, U.S. Department of State. On the occasion of the State Department's release of the 10th annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which for the first time included the United States in its rankings. In recognition of "perseverance against slavery operations in the U.S. agricultural industry" and "determination to eliminate forced labor in supply chains."
  • 2010 People of the Year, Fort Myers (FL) News-Press, in recognition of the CIW's "years of groundbreaking advocacy" and "landmark efforts, which have far-ranging implications beyond Southwest Florida."[43]
  • 2010 Adela Dwyer-St. Thomas of Villanova Peace Award, Villanova University, Center for Peace & Justice Education.[44]
  • 2008 Sister Margaret Cafferty Development of People Award, Catholic Campaign for Human Development.[45]
  • 2007 Anti-Slavery Award, Anti-Slavery International of London (world’s oldest human rights organization) for exceptional contribution towards tackling modern-day slavery in the U.S. agricultural industry.[46]
  • 2006 Paul and Sheila Wellstone Award, Freedom Network USA, for outstanding contributions to combating human trafficking and modern-day slavery in the U.S.[47]
  • 2005 Letter of Commendation from F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller.
  • 2005 Benny Award, Business Ethics Network, for outstanding contribution to corporate ethics.
  • 2005 Harry Chapin Self-Reliance Award, World Hunger Year, for leadership in the fight against poverty.
  • 2003 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights.
  • 2002 NOW Woman of Courage Award, National Organization for Women.
  • 1999 Grand Prize Brick Award, Rolling Stone magazine and Do Something Foundation.
  • 1998 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award, Catholic Campaign for Human Development.


  1. ^ CIW website, "About Us."
  2. ^ Ríos, Kristofer. “After Long Fight, Farmworkers in Florida Win Pay Increase.” New York Times, January 18, 2011.
  3. ^ Bittman, Mark. "The True Cost of Tomatoes." New York Times, June 14, 2011.
  4. ^ Bowe, John. "Nobodies: Does Slavery Exist in America?" The New Yorker, April 21, 2003.
  5. ^ Estabrook, Barry. "Politics of the Plate: The Price of Tomatoes." Gourmet, March 2009.
  6. ^ CdeBaca, Luis. “Remarks on the Release of the 10th Annual Trafficking in Persons Report.” Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. State Department, June 14, 2010.
  7. ^ Nielsen, Kirk. “Organizing the Fields.” The Progressive, December 2008.
  8. ^, "WCIW-LP - Immokalee, FL."
  9. ^ CIW website, "About Us."
  10. ^ Oxfam America. “Like Machines in the Fields: Workers without Rights in American Agriculture.” 2004, p. 36.
  11. ^ Nieves, Evelyn. “Accord With Tomato Pickers Ends Boycott of Taco Bell.” Washington Post, March 9, 2005.
  12. ^ CIW website, "Taco Bell Agreement Analysis."
  13. ^ CIW website, "What Have We Learned?"
  14. ^ CIW website, "Statements of Support Pouring in for CIW's McDonald's Initiative."
  15. ^ Groom, Nichola. "McDonald's agrees to pay more for Florida tomatoes." Reuters, April 9, 2007.
  16. ^ CIW and McDonald's joint press release, April 9, 2007.
  17. ^ Schlosser, Eric. "Burger With a Side of Spies." New York Times, May 7, 2008.
  18. ^ Martin, Andrew. “Burger King Grants Raise to Pickers.” New York Times, May 24, 2008.
  19. ^ Miguel, Tracy X. "Subway agrees to pay another penny per pound for Southwest Florida tomatoes." Naples Daily News, December 2, 2008.
  20. ^ Sellers, Sean. "Chipotle Challenge: Time to Back Up Food With Integrity.", December 11, 2009.
  21. ^ CIW and BAMCO joint press release, April 29, 2009.
  22. ^ Black, Jane. "Farm Workers' Wages to Increase Under Labor Agreement." Washington Post, September 25, 2009.
  23. ^ CIW and Aramark joint press release, April 1, 2010.
  24. ^ CIW and Sodexo joint press release, August 24, 2010.
  25. ^ CIW and Whole Foods joint press release, September 9, 2008.
  26. ^ "Farmworkers Target Tampa Publix Stores in Protest." Associated Press, March 5, 2011.
  27. ^ Estabrook, Barry. "The Profound Impact of a Penny." Zester, June 6, 2011.
  28. ^ Ríos, Kristofer. "Farmworkers to Pressure Stop & Shop." Boston Globe, February 26, 2011.
  29. ^ Hughlett, Mike. "McDonald's Farmworker Raise Fought by Growers." Chicago Tribune, November 6, 2007.
  30. ^ Greenhouse, Steven. "Tomato Pickers' Wages Fight Faces Obstacles." New York Times, December 24, 2007.
  31. ^ Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. "Ending Abuses and Improving Working Conditions for Tomato Workers. April 15, 2008.
  32. ^ CIW and Florida Tomato Growers Exchange joint press release, November 16, 2010.
  33. ^ Ríos, Kristofer. “After Long Fight, Farmworkers in Florida Win Pay Increase.” New York Times, January 18, 2011.
  34. ^ Wides-Muñoz, Laura. "Fla. Tomato Growers, Farmworkers in Landmark Deal." Associated Press, November 16, 2010.
  35. ^ CIW and Florida Tomato Growers Exchange joint press release, November 16, 2010.
  36. ^ "One Penny More a Pound." Editorial. New York Times, December 3, 2010.
  37. ^ CIW website, "Anti-Slavery Campaign."
  38. ^ CIW website, "CIW Highlights."
  39. ^ CIW website, "Florida Modern-Day Slavery Museum."
  40. ^ Moynihan, Colin. "Rolling Museum Casts Light on Current-Day Forced Labor." New York Times, August 4, 2010.
  41. ^ Marx, Rebecca. "Florida's Modern-Day Slavery Museum Spotlights Plight of Farm Laborers." Village Voice, March 2, 2010.
  42. ^ CIW website, "CIW Highlights."
  43. ^ "The Coalition of Immokalee Workers End 2010 on a High Note." Editorial. Ft. Myers News-Press, December 27, 2010.
  44. ^ Villanova University press release, March 5, 2010.
  45. ^ US Conference of Catholic Bishops press release, March 12, 2008
  46. ^ Anti-Slavery International press release, August 11, 2007.
  47. ^ Freedom Network USA website, "Paul & Sheila Wellstone Award."

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