Wrap-up: April 2015 Discussion

Publish Date: 
Wednesday, May 6, 2015

In our April Discussion, Cathy Albisa of NESRI introduced worker-driven social responsibility (WSR) as a form of labor rights monitoring. WSR, which emerged from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ (CIW) Campaign for Fair Food, attempts to address the issue of rights enforcement on the ground. The campaign resulted in the Fair Food Program, which emerged out of agreements between  workers, growers, and corporate buyers. In the program, all parties agreed to a number of binding provisions, including a rights-based code of conduct;;  economic sanctions for violations; and independent audits, on-site monitoring and complaints resoultion by a third-party, the Fair Food Standards Council (FFSC).

The WSR approach has proven that workers have the technical know-how and leadership to design and execute a successful monitoring and enforcement program. There were no cases reported of forced labor and sexual abuse last year, and instances of wage theft and sexual harassment have plummeted. In the discussion that followed, many people asked for more information about how certain parts of the Fair Food Program operate—in particular about the monitoring-enforcement nexus. The audits, for example, are conducted by the FFSC once or twice per season, to monitor wage theft and other payroll issues. In the event employers fail to distribute the premium to workers and then refuse to effectively remedy the situation, swift economic sanctions are enforced in the form of cancelled contracts. Onsite monitors enable resolution of or sanctions for other violations that emerge during the onsite interview process. Cathy also suggested a number of additional resources about the program (see herehere and here).

There was an interesting discussion about how whether WSR adopts a “violations approach” to monitoring, or whether it also monitors the progressive realization of economic and social rights. The approach can be described as a hybrid; the ability to sanction violations means creates space for constant and structured dialogue about and assessment of what progress on the ground really means. For example, when the monitors record a violation on site, they use a “restorative justice” model, when feasible and appropriate, to resolve it. The worker affected, his or her co-workers, the grower and the sub-contractor come together and discuss what caused the violation and then collectively agree on a solution, facilitated by an FFP monitor or a CIW promoter.

Sexual abuse and harassment is a particularly rampant problem where the entire structure of accountability in the industry needed to be changed to address it. Two abusers who had been coercing women were kicked out of the program and can no longer work on Fair Food Program farms. This has had a seismic effect on the industry and led to women feeling more empowered to come forward.

The political context that motivated corporate actors to engage with the Fair Food Program was also discussed. Strong worker-led leadership, strong allies, and a number of federal cases investigating instances of slavery on farms created a situation where companies could no longer ignore the conditions of their workers. Cathy argued that any supply chain with a brand to protect at the top, potential allies in the consumer movement and marginalized workers at the bottom would provide a viable context for this kind of monitoring and enforcement. The CIW has been asked to share their experience with workers in various industries from around the globe. Further, NESRI and the Workers’ Rights Consortium (WSR) have been supportive of workers in Bangladesh in their struggle for improved working conditions, and are pleased to see elements of WSR as part of the Bangladesh Accords.

Catherine Albisa (NESRI)
Working Group(s):