Fair Trade and Social Justice

OCA's New Fair World Project

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) launched the Fair World Project (FWP) in September 2010 to promote fair trade in commerce, especially in organic production systems in developing countries as well as at home, and to protect the term "fair trade" from dilution and misuse for mere PR purposes. The OCA's new project fills the critical need for a watchdog of misleading fair trade claims, and a cheerleader for dedicated fair trade mission-driven companies. Through FWP, OCA will focus on promoting projects that connect the environmental and health benefits of organic agriculture with the social benefits derived from fair trade.

Click here to read more about the Fair World Project
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OCA's FAQ on Labor Rights

Why is the OCA getting involved in labor issues?

OCA believes that a healthy and sustainable food system depends on respect for the workers, animals and the environment. Unfortunately, labor laws in the United States do very little to protect the nation's two million farm workers, some of the most exploited and vulnerable members of our society.

Much of the natural and organic food produced in the United States, particularly in the West, is produced by corporate factory farms, employing farm workers.

OCA is member of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) and subscribes to the vision that a "holistic approach of Organic Agriculture also includes principles, which are related to benefits for human beings: farmers, workers, traders, retailers, all should be part of a fair process, which allows everybody to survive in 'good' conditions"

kale harvest

Aren't farm labor standards already regulated by the federal and state governments?

Yes and no. First, the USDA Organic Certification does not address labor conditions.

Second, US labor law discriminates against farm workers by denying them many of the key protections that most other industrial or service workers enjoy, like overtime pay, health and safety protections and even a legally binding mechanism that requires agricultural employers to negotiate a union contract. Even the United State's own General Accounting Office found that "farm workers are not adequately protected by federal laws, regulations, and programs; therefore, their health and well-being at great risk." According to the most recent findings of the National Agriculture Workers Survey (NAWS), nearly three-quarters of U.S. farm workers earn less than $10,000 per year and three out of five farm worker families have incomes below the poverty level.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was signed into law in 1935 at time when the country was dominated by small-scale family farms. Now, with the majority of the nation's food supply coming from factory farms, and not family farms. The NLRA is grossly out of date for farm workers, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the agency tasked with administering NLRA, is at present an inadequate forum for protecting workers rights.

What is the Employee Free Choice Act?

tractor farmerThe Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) respects that the right to join a union is a fundamental freedom, just like freedom of speech or religion, and that employees should be able to do so without interference from management.

  • Majority Rules: Under EFCA, if a majority of all employees sign cards indicating support for a union the employer is required to recognize the union so long as the workers' choice is certified by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The current process is not working because of a dramatic rise in coercive and hostile action by employers against employees trying to unionize.
  • Fair Resolution of Contract Disputes: When workers decide they want to be represented by a union, employers can drag out the contract negotiation process for years. EFCA creates a fair process for resolving contract disputes.
  • Strong Remedies to Protect Workers' Rights: Currently, employers face only minimal penalties if they violate employees' rights who are trying to form a union -- essentially a minor cost of doing business. EFCA would level the playing field by requiring the NLRB to take legal action to reinstate workers fired for union activity

What about Fair Trade?

Though there are currently several domestic Fair Trade initiatives in the works, of which the OCA is collaborating, these initiatives are still several years away from implementation. While the OCA commends these important efforts (see this PDF), the plight of farm workers and other workers in the supply chain needs to be addressed immediately.

Why Unions?

Over the years, Unions have fought and organized in support of workers rights, often creating laws and policies as a result of their efforts. For example, thanks to the UFW's work, they were able to win the first union contracts requiring rest periods, toilets in the fields, clean drinking water, hand washing facilities, protective clothing against pesticide exposure, banning pesticide straying while workers are in the fields, outlawing DDT and other dangerous pesticides, lengthening pesticide re-entry periods beyond state and federal standards, and requiring the testing of farm workers on a regular basis to monitor for pesticide exposure.

OCA believes that Trade Unions, like the United Farm Workers, represent one of the few ways that workers can organize and advocate for worker justice in a system rife with abuse and exploitation. Organizations like the UFW, can not only improve workplace safety, offer representation and increase wages, but also provide retirement benefits, credit and educational opportunities.

tractor farmerWhy Whole Foods?

Whole Foods is the nation's largest single buyer of Country Natural Beef, and could play a major role in positively influencing the ongoing union drive at Beef Northwest.

Whole Foods also recently signed an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) support the CIW's "penny-per-pound" approach for tomatoes purchased from Florida.

According to CIW and Whole Food's September 9th press release, "Whole Foods Market is exploring the creation of a domestic purchasing program to help guarantee transparent, ethical and responsible sourcing and production, using the company's existing Whole Trade Guarantee program as a model. Whole Trade Guarantee, a third-party verified program, ensures that producers and laborers in developing countries get an equitable price for their goods in a safe and healthy working environment."

What about the Farm Workers?

Harvesting WheatMigrant and seasonal farm workers represent some of the most economically disadvantaged people in the United States. According to the most recent findings of the National Agriculture Workers Survey (NAWS), nearly three-quarters of U.S. farm workers earn less than $10,000 per year and three out of five farm worker families have incomes below the poverty level.

Farm work is the second lowest paid job in the US (after domestic labor).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Farm Workers consistently ranks in the top ten of most dangerous jobs in the United States.

Many farm workers are undocumented and particularly vulnerable to exploitation in the workplace.

Participate in an OCA Fair Trade Campaign

The Climate Benefits of Coffee

From Miller-McCune:

Considering the size of the market for high-quality "cause" coffees, it's a little surprising that specialty roasters and certifiers haven't been bolder in highlighting the climate credentials of their wares, not even on the ecology pages on Web sites for retail roasters like Green Earth or Rappahannock. Studies consistently show that consumers are more likely to buy a product if they know it's been produced in an environmentally responsible way. And, according to Matt Warning, a development economist at the University of Puget Sound, "It would be an easy case to make that the attributes that make a particular coffee climate friendly are also attributes common to quality coffees."

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Land and Hunger: Making the Rights Connection
A series of articles adressing global land rights from Grassroots International:
Beef Northwest update

The Organic Consumers Association has suspended its Sweatshop 'Natural' Beef campaign pending successful proceedings at Beef Northwest. Please find below a joint statement from Beef Northwest and the UFW:

"Beef Northwest and the UFW are pleased to announce that we have reached a tentative agreement resolving our labor dispute. Our agreement is predicated on a mutually agreed upon process by which Beef Northwest employees will decide if they want union representation."

Learn More at OCA's UFW Page