Modern-Day Slavery

25 Feb 2009

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is calling on Florida Governor Charlie Crist to commit to addressing the ‘plague’ of modern-day slavery in Florida’s fields, a campaign which is being run in coalition with the Student Farmworker Alliance and is supported by many groups across the nation, including Slow Food USA.

The plight of workers in Immokalee’s fields is being read about across the USA in the latest edition of Gourmet magazine, in which Barry Estabrook details just how horrific labor conditions can be in the region, the nation’s winter tomato capital.

Estabrook interviewed members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), who have been working to improve labor conditions for farmworkers across the region since 1993, fighting against conditions that range from sub-poverty wages to actual modern-day slavery. The CIW has worked with the US Department of Justice on the successful prosecution of seven cases of slavery over the past decade.

Coalition member Gerardo Reyes, once a tomato picker, said the article shows how things have changed – and how many people nationally are paying attention to the group’s Campaign for Fair Food. ‘Clearly, the campaign is having an impact and reaching places we might never have imagined. It reflects the growing concern about sustainable – and fair – food,’ said Reyes.

Governor Crist has declined to comment on these cases, continuing what the Coalition say has been decades of silence from Florida’s governors on the issue. The campaign not only calls on Governor Crist to publicly condemn the continuing existence of modern-day slavery, but also to demand that the Florida Tomato Growers’ Exchange end its efforts to annul the agreements reached between the CIW and leading fast-food and supermarket purchasers of Florida tomatoes to improve farm worker wages and conditions.

Rose O’Dell King, president of Slow Food Southwest Florida, said that the national attention was a call to action. ‘I hope these articles spur people on to think about that tomato and where it came from,’ O’Dell King said. ‘Slow Food Southwest Florida has petitioned its members to write to Governor Crist and ask that he take a stand to end this modern-day slavery.’

The campaign has been joined by many other organizations including Slow Food USA, Organic Consumers Association, Food First and Florida Organic Growers.

Signatures are being collected across the country during the month of February, and will be presented in an action in March.The petition can be signed online at and Slow Food Florida will attend Greenmarket this Saturday.

View the ‘Back to Reality’ slide show of images here.

Read the article in Gourmet.


Bess Mucke
[email protected]

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