Coalition of Immokalee Workers

For nearly 20 years, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has used combinations of protests, marches, boycotts and hunger strikes to pressure quick service restaurants and supermarket chains to join its Fair Food Program, which purports to end exploitation of migrant tomato farmworkers as well as increase their pay.

CIW’s so-called Penny-Per-Pound campaign has employed secondary boycotts of corporate targets without relent, in some cases for upwards of six years. Secondary boycotts involve bypassing direct employers, in this case Florida tomato growers, and targeting a third party.  CIW travels up the supply chain to attack recognizable brands, i.e. those with the most to lose from prolonged negative publicity.  The greatest determining factor of whether or not a company will become a CIW is its market position.  The more successful a company the more likely it will be attacked.  Eleven major restaurant, grocery and foodservice brands succumbed to pressure and signed agreements with CIW.

Meanwhile, CIW is currently focusing its activities on Publix Supermarkets, Ahold/Kroger and Wendy’s.  Ironically, Publix Supermarkets is the largest employee-owned company in America and is considered by many to be a model of worker empowerment.

Not all migrant worker advocates agree with CIW’s approach.  Many believe efforts should be focused on dealing directly with employers to improve working conditions, and controversy therefore surrounds the administration of the Fair Food Program. Migrant advocates and farmworkers are currently engaged in a series of lawsuits in an attempt to recover money allegedly owed to workers through the Fair Food Program. Questions remain as to whether or not large sums of money awarded to the Fair Food Program were properly administered to workers, as advertised, or misdirected to other projects.

One critic of the CIW program, Greg Schell of the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project stated “It’s a model with no transparency, no accountability and no democracy.  Schell has also been quoted as saying, “Their primary motivation is less improving farmworkers’ lives than generating publicity, power, influence and notoriety for the Coalition.”

Founding

Originally founded in 1993 as the Southwest Florida Farmworker Project, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a self-described “worker-based human rights organization” that focuses on the twin goals of improving the working conditions and pay of agricultural workers in Florida as well as putting an end to “modern-day slavery.”  The name ...

Funding

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is funded primarily through foundation grants, but also receives funding (PDF) from the worker center Food Chain Workers Alliance, Inc.  Between 2010 and 2011, CIW saw its annual budget jump from just over $1 million dollars to over $3 million dollars.  Many of CIW’s most prominent funders include: ...

Key Alliances

CIW uses a collection of one-off groups to legitimize its campaigns and coordinate action.  The Fair Foods Standard Council was set up by CIW to appear as an independent, third party validator of the practices of the Fair Food Program.  Similarly CIW established the Alliance for Fair Food to coordinate ...

Size and Scope

CIW is a “community-based farmworker organization” that claims a membership of over 4,000 workers.  Affiliated groups and supporting organizations provide CIW coast-to-coast reach, and through umbrella organizations such as the Food Chain Workers Alliance, CIW can rely on allies in every state in the country. Based on its Campaign for Fair ...

Tactics

Attacking the image of major restaurant and supermarket brands is the primary method used by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to achieve its goal of enlisting brands in its Fair Food Program.  CIW levels claims that these brands are actively supporting “slavery in the supply chain.” A multi-year boycott in ...