(UPDATED COVERAGE, Jan. 22) Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will be paying Florida tomato pickers a penny more for each pound harvested — and plans to expand that to include other fresh produce sold by the chain.
The world’s largest retailer signed an agreement Jan. 16 in Immokalee, Fla., with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which has sought such agreements with retailers, foodservice operators and other tomato buyers. The workers group has dubbed the penny-per-pound initiative the Fair Food Premium.
According to a news release, the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer agrees to:
- Continue paying the premium when Florida-based growers in the program switch tomato harvest to other states
- Sign longer-term purchase commitments with some Florida growers;
- Fold the extra penny directly into Wal-Mart’s costs for Florida tomatoes; and
- Eventually expand the program to other crops.
Through the initiative, growers pass the bonuses to workers as part of a traceable payment system the Fair Food Standards Council monitors, according to the release.
“Wal-Mart and our suppliers are committed to strong ethical sourcing standards and every day we work to help ensure the products we sell are produced in a way that provides fair treatment for workers in our supply chain,” Tom Leech, Wal-Mart’s senior vice president of global food sourcing, said in the release. “Our participation in the Fair Food Program combined with long term supply agreements with our suppliers will ensure that our customers get great products at great prices from suppliers that are working to improve the lives of their workers.”
“Wal-Mart’s supporting the Fair Food program speaks volumes about the legitimacy and the importance of what the CIW has done and continues to do to expand worker protection,” said Jon Esformes, operating partner of Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd., Palmetto, Fla. “ ... We are very grateful and honored to be partners with the coalition & Wal-Mart in this effort to increase worker safety, protections and worker pay.”
The defunct East Coast Brokers and Packers Inc., in Mulberry, Fla., was the first major Florida grower-shipper to sign onto the initiative with the workers’ group in 2009 with Pacific Tomatoes and Immokalee-based Lipman signing on in October 2010.
The Maitland-based Florida Tomato Growers Exchange later followed suit, effectively adding participating exchange members to the program.