Students Join Trader Joes Protest to Support Better Farm Working Conditions

Last week, a group of students from the 5Cs marched with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and other allied organizations to force Trader Joe’s to sign the Fair Trade Agreement, which represents a step toward alleviating the horrendous working conditions that tomato pickers in Florida endure. In the end the company did not sign the agreement, which is part of the CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food.

“The Campaign for Fair Food aims to harness the purchasing power of the food industry for the betterment of farm worker wages and working conditions,” states the CIW website.

The Fair Trade Agreement stipulates that growers will pay the tomato pickers an extra penny a pound, a pay raise of almost 60 percent. Growers that have signed require that their consumers—companies such as Trader Joe’s—absorb that cost.

So far, many large-scale buyers have signed this agreement, including Sodexo and Bon Appétit (which serve the Claremont Colleges) as well as Whole Foods, McDonald’s, and Yum! Brands, which operates Taco Bell and KFC.

Although Trader Joe’s claims only to buy from growers who have signed the Fair Trade Agreement, CIW wants to formalize this practice. They have seen no direct proof of Trader Joe’s commitment to buying from growers who have signed the Fair Trade Agreement.

Trader Joe’s employees at the headquarters in Monrovia gave the march a less than warm reception.

“They were actually quite aggressive and rude to the attendees,” Caitlin Watkins PZ ’13, the head organizer for the group of students that attended the march, recalled in an e-mail. “They refused to come out of their office, and then proceeded to rip up the letters that were presented to them by the community and religious leaders.”

According to Watkins, CIW has planned for this outcome.

“[They have organized a] traveling protest from Immokalee, Florida, to Monrovia, [Trader Joe’s] head quarters, and that [will] end in February,” she said.

“Those of us who attended are now planning a formal boycott of Trader Joe’s until they agree to sign the commitment for one penny more per pound,” she wrote, adding, “We hope that the Claremont Colleges will take this information and decide to patronize companies that treat the farm workers humanely, unlike Trader Joe’s.”

About 20 universities were represented at the march. There were six attendees from the Claremont Colleges, and about 500 people in total at the rally.

The march was just one example of how the Claremont Colleges contribute to the food dialogue that is forming around the country.

Campus resources such as the Pomona College Farm, the Pitzer Garden at the John R. Rodman Arboretum, and the Community Garden at Claremont McKenna teach students about organic agriculture, and introduce sustainable food growing practices at the Colleges.

Also, this past Monday was Food Day, a part of the ongoing effort to create a food dialogue on the 5Cs. Both Pomona and Pitzer College participated, with various events last Monday and today.

According to the Pitzer dining hall website, Food Day is “a grassroots mobilization to push for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way.”

Students are also involved in the Real Food Challenge, which seeks to have 20 percent of college and university food purchases be “real food”—that is, “ecologically sound, fair, humane and local food,” according to Watkins.

She added that the Challenge is about “building leadership, training students how to facilitate, [and] how to organize their communit[ies].”

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