Modern Day Slavery
In 2011, Jane Black, a staff writer for The New York Times argued that anyone who ate a winter tomato inadvertently supported modern day slavery right here in the United States. Black as well as other authoritative members of society have stepped up to shed a light on the unethical methods currently being implemented throughout the agricultural industry. The process works like this: Grocery stores and restaurants rely directly on agriculture growers for produce. Agriculture growers are the people who own farmland and grow produce on their land. These growers hire men and woman referred to as farm workers, to maintain and pick the produce on the farm. Recently, cases of slave-like practices have been reported between agriculture growers and farmworkers. A new program has been proposed in effort to combat slave-like practices in the agriculture industry. The Fair Food Act will fight to ensure agriculture growers cannot integrate slave like practices into agriculture farming operations.
One might wonder how slavery practices still exist if it was abolished in the 19th century. Unfortunately, the effects of abolishing slavery in the late 19th century can justify modern day slavery practices seen today. After the abolishment of slavery, the demand for cheap labor increased, leading to a new form of slavery referred to as slave like practices. In his book Slavery in a Modern World, Junius Rodriguez, explains, “American Migrant workers were forced to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, producing goods for well-known U.S. firms”. Rodriguez explains the abolishment of slavery negatively impacted U.S. firms, who relied on slave labor to meet the demand of consumers. He says, following the abolishment of slavery many of these firms were left with limited options concerning employment of the lower half of the work chain in the company’s work force. Out of desperation, the majority of these firms returned to old habits, slaving workers for unreasonable compensation and terrible workplace safety, now referred to as “modern day slavery”. Previous slaves who were uneducated and had spent their whole lives as agriculture workers or farm workers were now left with no other choice then to continue with their current skill set, being trapped back into slave-like practices for these large U.S. farms (Rodriguez 10). The abolishment of slavery was looked at as a step forward for humanity; however based on Rodriguez’s research, the abolishment of slavery could maybe have not been as far a step forward as we thought.
As there are many different regions of America currently being influenced by modern day slavery, the most brutal conditions can be traced to 125 miles North West of Miami, in the small agriculture town of Immokalee, Florida. Jane Black reports that Florida Agriculture growers psychologically manipulate farm workers promising them room, board and a job that could potentially pay 200 dollars a week (Black 1). However she insists that most of the time this is a false opportunity and instead, upon arrival applicants are subjected to work in conditions similar to slavery. Black describes a graphic situation where a farm worker, “was docked five dollars, to stand naked in the back yard and clean himself with cold water from a garden hose” (Black 1). Black argues that this is simply unethical and would be considered acts of psychological torture. She expresses that these farm workers are unethically tricked into slavery for agriculture growers in the United States.
In continuation, not only do these Agriculture growers abuse farm works psychologically, they also physically torture victim farm workers. Steven Greenhouse, columnist for The New York Times, describes farm workers daily routine: first farm workers are forced to board a bus at 5 am reaching their designated farm at no later than 6. Farmworkers are then forced to wait for the dew to dissipate, adding an additional 1-4 hours of time prior to actually starting their workday. Greenhouse argues that this is physical torture as most busses are unreasonably packed full for hours on end (Greenhouse 1). Jane Black also describes similar cases where American farm workers were being lodged into the back of pickup trucks all night with no running water or toilet, then put to work all day. Sometimes this would repeat for 3-4 days at a time, separating families from their homes for days on end. She explains many farm workers struggled to cope with these harsh living conditions, pushing some to attempt escape from the Agriculture grower’s sickening slavery trap. However Black affirms the majority of workers did not attempt escape, for if you were caught, consequences included a severe beating as well as no pay for two weeks (Black 1). This brutal case further justifies that agriculture growers are unethically employing American farm workers.
Furthermore, if the short-term physical abuses weren’t enough, farm workers also were forced to deal with the long-term physical burdens associated with agriculture farm work. Agriculture growers commonly spray pesticides on fields, as a measure to keep yield amounts high. Pesticides commonly sprayed on fields cause health issues in most farm workers. In her article The Nation: Historic Agreement Raises Farm Wages, Tamara Lush expressed, “Maria Meza gave birth to Jorge, who had one ear, no nose, a cleft palate, one kidney, no anus and no visible sexual organs” (Lush 2). Lush reports that it was later determined that Jorge was a girl and renamed Violeta, who ended up living just three days. She traces these common birth defects back to agriculture growers that use pesticides. Lush argues that this is simply inhumane as birth defects are now putting a huge burden on farm working families.
American farm workers not only have to endure psychological and physical torture, but they are also unreasonably compensated financially for their backbreaking work. Lush highlights the misunderstood pay guidelines which say agriculture growers are paid 12 dollars an hour when in reality workers are technically paid per each 32lb bucket of produce picked (Lush 2). This would suggest that if each farm worker strived to make 12 dollars an hour, they would be forced to pick one piece of produce per second with no resting periods throughout the whole workday. On top of that, Greenhouse reports that while farmworkers are waiting on buses for the dew to dissipate, they are also not receiving any compensation for that dead time, putting even more pressure on the desperate workers during the day. Instead farmworkers only start making money when they turn in the first bucket of produce picked for the day. At the end of the workweek, farm workers are often paid in small arbitrary amounts for 80-hour workweeks leaving most hungry and exhausted. These unethical protocols leave the majority of farmworkers to live below the poverty line, even after a backbreaking 80-hour workweek.
By all means, agriculture growers have unethically taken advantage of these gritty farm workers. From physical beatings to an unethical compensation protocols, these farm workers are contained in a modern day slavery trap in the states. In these desperate times farm workers survive on the hope for change in this sickening trap. It is important that proper measures are taken to ensure farm workers are receiving fair financial compensation, treatment, and workplace safety. Companies who purchase produce from immoral agriculture growers ultimately are supporting slave-like practices.
Subsequently, the solution to this problem goes far beyond any state or federal law requirements agriculture growers must abide by. According to Greenhouse, the solution to this problem lies within a single program referred to as the “Fair Food Act”, which aims to ensure agriculture growers practice newly revised business ethics under this program (Greenhouse 2). The thesis of The Fair Food Act would entail implementing proper business ethics to all agriculture growers and include a raise of one penny more per bucket of produce picked by farm workers. Greg Kaufmann, writer for National Public Radio, estimates the well-earned pay raise would ultimately cost agriculture growers 1200 dollars more a year per farm worker (Kaufmann 1). He also reports that the program will work to ensure that proper workplace safety protocols are followed. The program aims to fund projects which will build shade tents for workers to rest, as well as improve drinking water systems, costing agriculture growers about 55,000 dollars per farm. The biggest hurdle to overcome with implementing The Fair Food Act is convincing companies to agree to only work with agriculture growers who abide by the Fair Food Act. In essence, all produce would have a sticker representing the Fair Food Act signaling that the produce came from a farm that does not use slave-like practices.
Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that no agriculture grower is in favor of increasing overhead cost even if it is for a worthwhile cause. It is a tough sell even for companies who also do not want to take the responsibility of selling food that has come from an unethical form of business practices. With the support of the American people, farmworkers have put their foot down and retaliated against those who contribute to this unethical madness.
Admiringly, back in Immokalee, Florida American farm workers protest the local chain grocery store Publix, in hope that they will sign on with The Fair Food Act. National Public Radio host Jon Esformes wrote about how, a protestor commented, “We ask how they can sell ‘fair trade’ coffee but not put pressure on the produce growers to make a slight increase to farm worker wages” (Esformes 1). Publix has already signed onto a Fair Coffee Program, which essentially aided coffee bean farm workers with better benefits and more reasonable pay. Produce farm workers now fight for the same rights coffee farm workers previously fought for. According to Michelle May, member of United Church of Christ, more than 350 produce farm workers protested in front of corporate Publix office for several days in hope that the multibillion-dollar company would sign the Fair Food Program. However, Michelle regrets to note that after the six-day protest no response was ever received from Publix (May 1). This further explains that large companies like Publix are aware of the unethical treatment between agriculture growers and farm workers, but suggests companies simply do not have a plan to fix the problem.
Without doubt, it is crucial that supermarkets sign onto the Fair Food Program in order to combat modern day slavery. In 2015 supermarkets struggle to compete with competitor’s low prices. By signing on with the Fair Food Act, new financial responsibilities are obtained. In other words, the cost of the produced goods would increase from agriculture growers to grocery store companies, which suggests the prices for consumers will also inflate. It is up to the election of the consumer if they decide to buy produce stamped by the Fair Food act, ensuring proper business ethics have been followed to deliver that piece of produce. Malcom Palmer, an average produce consumer asserts, “If a minor expansion on the price of produce helps to alleviate the burden and mistreatment of workers, I believe that it is not only reasonable, but a moral obligation” (Palmer 1). Most buyers value a product that has been delivered following all standards of business ethics. Like Mr. Palmer, many consumers believe that this is a moral obligation, which will help alleviate the encumbrance that has placed these laborers over the past 40 years. Mr. Palmer expressed it is only fair that a farm worker receives the same work place safety protocols that a businessman would in New York City, working at an advertising firm. Palmer also suggests that responsible business ethics should never be over looked to reap the profitable benefits that large companies already obtain. Yet, he also recognizes that the people need to take responsibility for supporting companies who abide by the Fair Food Act.
On the contrary, there is a significant amount of supermarkets that have chosen not to participate in the Fair Food Act. Greg Kaufman further explains that when non-participating supermarkets were accused of supporting agriculture growers; who immorally treated farm workers. Supermarkets commented, “these were isolated cases and there was no need for systemic reforms” (Kaufmann 2). Supermarkets are completely aware of the unethical practices being used by agriculture growers, yet still refuse that any immoral conduct is occurring on agriculture farms. Kaufmann further explains that supermarkets are not willing to own up to the Fair Food Program, as profit margins would slightly decrease. The solution to this issue lies solely on convincing supermarkets to participate in the Fair Food Program.
In conclusion, the abolishment of slavery led to dishonorable modern day slavery practices amongst agriculture growers in the United States. Agriculture growers have unethically taken advantage of hard working American farm worker’s rights. Growers have sectioned out farm workers, torturing them physically, psychologically, as well as financially. It is essential that companies only work with agriculture growers who practice the Fair Food Program to ensure that no farm worker experiences the burden of low pay and unscrupulous treatment here in the United States. The consumer holds the responsibility of choosing where to purchase produce in this free market economy, and it is in the interests of social morality that they only invest in Fair Food Program produce.
Black, Jane. “Attack of the Factory Tomatoes.” Washington, D.C: WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post, 2011.
Esformes, Jon. “The Nation: Historic Agreement Raises Farm Wages.” NPR. NPR, 10 Oct. 2011. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
Greenhouse, Steven. “In Florida Tomato Fields, a Penny Buys Progress: Business/Financial Desk.” New York Times: A.1. 2014.
Kaufmann, Greg. “The Nation: Historic Agreement Raises Farm Wages.” NPR. NPR, 10 Oct. 2011. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
Lush, Tamara. “Modern-Day Slavery Hides Behind Florida Doors: South Pinellas. Edition.” St. Petersburg Times: 1.A. 2004.
May, Michelle. “Synod Delegates March In Support Of Immokalee Workers.” United Church of Christ. UCC, 03 July 2011. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
Palmer, Malcom. “Supporting Companies with Bad Business Ethics.” Personal interview. 15 Mar. 2015.
Rodriguez, Junius. Slavery in the Modern World: A History of Political, Social, and Economic Oppression. ABC-CLIO, 2011.Print.