Fair Food

Sarasota's Fair Food Standards Council Was Featured on Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

Its work was highlighted on an episode about the plight of migrant workers.

By Isaac Eger April 18, 2023

Migrant workers pick strawberries.

Migrant workers pick strawberries.

The work of Sarasota’s very own Fair Food Standards Council, a workers' rights enforcement organization, was prominently featured Sunday night on HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

The segment, titled “Farmworkers,” focused on the wretched conditions and inhumane treatment faced by the more than 3 million migrant and seasonal farmworkers in this country. We often forget that it’s not a squinty-eyed farmer wearing overalls and driving a tractor who picks our food. That back-breaking work is done by the hands of undocumented workers who are treated like modern-day slaves. 

Because American citizens categorically will not do the farm work required to harvest much of our food, growers rely on the labor of undocumented workers, who subject themselves to low pay, dangerous conditions and cruel treatment.

One particularly harrowing quote from the show illustrates just how brutal the conditions can be. “A lot of people can’t stand it because it’s so hot,” one migrant worker said. “Sometimes you could feel the breeze from the pesticides they were spraying over there. It felt good.” 

However, because of migrant workers’ precarious legal standing in our country, there is little political will or infrastructure to ensure their rights. But Last Week Tonight didn’t just serve up a massive dose of doom to its viewers. It also showed that there are people and organizations who are working to improve the lives of the people who provide our food. That's where the work of the Fair Food Standards Council (FFSC) featured. 

The show highlighted the success of of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' use of the Fair Food Program to improve their conditions. The Fair Food Program (FFP) is a partnership between workers, farmers and sellers that ensures the humane wages and working conditions for migrants workers, and the FFSC is the organization responsible for ensuring that the farms that participate in the Fair Food Program are holding up their end of the bargain. 

“We are very happy that hundreds of thousands of people are viewing the John Oliver show focused on farm workers and the abuses all too often suffered by the men and women who harvest the food we eat,” says FFSC executive director Laura Safer Espinoza. “Viewers saw that there is a solution. The Fair Food Program’s worker-driven model of social responsibility has eliminated and prevented forced labor, sexual assault and other forms of violence, and wage theft and dangerous working conditions from Fair Food Program farms. The program is now present in 10 states and 10 crops, as well as the cut flower industry, but more support and expansion is needed from consumers and food retailers until all our food is 'fair food’. "

And while companies like Taco Bell, McDonald's and Wal-Mart have signed onto the Fair Food Program, Oliver also mentioned that three large companies—Kroger, Wendy’s and Florida-based Publix—still refuse to sign on with the FFP and give farmworkers a penny more per pound, guaranteeing their humane treatment. 

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