Ripe for Rebellion

05 Dec 2007

Florida’s tomato producers have been facing pressures to reduce operating costs for some time and keeping migrant wages as low as possible is a key opportunity. American fast food chains have applied most of this pressure: the largest purchasers of Florida tomatoes who demand vast quantities at cheap prices.

Migrant farm workers who harvest tomatoes in South Florida have a heavy workload. They pick by hand for 10 to 12 hours a day to earn around 45 cents for every 14.5 kg bucket. During a typical day each migrant will pick, carry and unload two tons of tomatoes. Further, this holiday season many of them are expected to get a 40 percent pay cut.

The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, which represents 90 percent of the state’s growers, announced that it would not allow any of its members to collect an extra cent for farm workers – which was supported by McDonalds and Taco Bell but rejected by Burger King. Reggie Brown, the executive vice-president of the group, described the surcharge for poor migrants as “pretty much near un-American”.

Migrant farm laborers have long been among America’s most deprived workers. Up to 80 percent of the migrants in Florida are illegal immigrants and so are particularly vulnerable to abuse, and in fact the US Justice Department has prosecuted six cases of slavery among farm workers in Florida in the past decade. These cases included migrants being driven into debt, forced to work for nothing and kept in chained trailers at night.

The farm worker alliance, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, has done a laudable job in improving the lives of Florida’s migrants, investigating slavery cases and negotiating the cent-per-kilogram surcharge with fast food chains.

While Burger King refuses to pay this extra cent for tomatoes and assist to provide a decent wage to migrant workers it would hardly burden the multinational company – it would cost Burger King only $250,000 a year.

Source: China Daily

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