US food firms create "Ethical Charter" to address labour abuses in Mexico - critics say without enforcement, it is "definition of greenwashing"

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12 January 2017

Analysis: Lofty goals… or empty promises?

Author: Coalition of Immokalee Workers (USA)

...[There's] nothing consequence[s] with real teeth — yet — built into the produce industry’s recently released “Ethical Charter.”  Genuine, informed worker participation and real enforcement mechanisms will be imperative going forward if this new initiative is to have any hope of success in bringing meaningful human rights protections to the US and Mexican produce industries... You can find the public draft of the Charter in its entirety here.

...[No] worker-led organization that we are aware of was at the table as this Ethical Charter was being developed, and, unfortunately, that omission is reflected clearly in the result. 

Food Safety vs. Worker Safety: Different Approaches to Similar Problems… The contrast between the industry’s robust [zero tolerance] response to food borne illness and its considerably more tepid approach to rooting out labor abuses is not hard to discern...

In [its] stated values, one can find signs indicating that the authors of the Charter mean well... [It] is our experience, following six years of implementation of the Fair Food Program, that a) worker participation and b) enforcement mechanisms with meaningful consequences for violations are, together, the defining factors in any successful effort... Unfortunately, it appears...[the] Ethical Charter is sorely lacking in precisely these two key areas... As a result, the Charter is at this stage, with one exception [regarding child labour], little more than an elaborately-constructed promise to do nothing more than comply with existing labor laws, without any means to monitor or enforce even that limited goal.

[refers to Wendy's, Publix]

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12 January 2017

Produce industry releases plan for ending abusive Mexican farm labor conditions

Author: Richard Marosi, Los Angeles Times (USA)

`North America’s largest produce industry groups have unveiled a plan aimed at ridding abusive labor conditions from supply chains, in a closely watched effort prompted by growing demand from consumers to know more about the food they eat. The so-called “Ethical Charter” is an attempt to get thousands of growers, distributors and retailers to follow basic values governing the treatment of workers, many of whom toil on large export farms in Mexico... The two-page draft, while containing few detailed proposals, calls for industry players to respect all laws and principles inspired by “international expectations.”... It pledges to create transparent and accessible channels for laborers to communicate workplace complaints. And it commits to  integrating social responsibility goals with purchasing practices.

The plan, drawn up by the Produce Marketing Assn. and the United Fresh Produce Assn., is getting a mixed, sometimes harsh, reaction from labor and consumer groups, and comes amid signs of continuing supply-chain troubles. In November, Mexican authorities rescued 81 laborers at a farm operated by a large exporter [Grupo GR] that supplies tomatoes and other vegetables to U.S. retailers including Walmart and Kroger... Industry critics [including United Farm Workers] said they were hoping for a proposal with clear enforcement mechanisms... 

Without audits by trained inspectors, for example, any plan to raise worker standards can’t be taken seriously, said Emily Miggins, a former sustainability manager at Safeway... [She added,] “This is exactly what I would say is the definition of greenwashing.”

Tom Stenzel, president of the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Assn., stressed that the plan is a work in progress and that the organizations look forward to getting feedback during a comment period ending Feb. 20... But Stenzel said verification mechanisms would not be imposed on association members under the draft plan. Businesses would decide on their own whether to use independent monitors to meet the ethical goals. [also refers to Driscoll's]

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