Fair Food label to indicate high ethical standards

TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) — A new Fair Food label to help shoppers identify tomatoes grown under ethical working conditions is expected to debut soon at Whole Foods Market.

The initiative is a result of efforts to ensure Florida farm workers’ rights to water, shade and fair wages.

The label, featuring a worker hoisting a brimming bucket, publicizes a campaign to reform an industry criticized by labour groups and prosecutors for unsafe and unfair working conditions.

A dozen major buyers are participating, including Wal-Mart, Yum Brands and Subway.

Participating buyers have agreed to purchase fresh tomatoes only from growers following higher standards. Ninety percent of tomato growers have signed on in Florida, the nation’s leading producer of fresh market tomatoes.

The campaign’s centrepiece is a premium of an extra penny per pound picked, paid on top of workers’ hourly minimum wages. Organizers say this has netted an extra $15 million for workers since 2011, adding $30 to $80 to weekly paychecks.

The label is “potentially game-changing like few things are,” said Janice Fine, an associate professor in labour studies and employment relations at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Officials at the White House and the United Nations have called the program a model that could expand to other regions and crops.

The program has assured safe conditions for an estimated 60,000 to 90,000 workers during tomato season. Florida produced $456 million in fresh market tomatoes last year, according to the state and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s a market that Florida dominates, along with California, the nation’s top overall tomato producer.

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