Supermarkets are a $4 trillion industry, yet many of the farm workers who are integral to getting products onto the stores’ shelves don’t make enough money to feed themselves.
It’s an awful injustice that’s at the center of a new eye-opening documentary, “Food Chains.” Produced by actress Eva Longoria and “Fast Food Nation” author Eric Schlosser, the film specifically explores the trials of abused tomato pickers in Southern Florida who fought back against child labor and paltry wages.
“To live hungry while you are working, that’s not a dignified way of living,” one of the workers featured in the film said in the trailer.
Tomatoes are a $1.3 billion industry in the United States, and Florida leads the way in production.
However, workers earn on average an estimated $10,000 to $12,000 a year, according to The New York Times.
An individual who earned $11,490 last year was counted as living in poverty.
Farm laborers are among the lowest-paid workers in the United States and also sometimes face physical abuse.
In the 2008 U.S. v. Navarrete case, for example, the Navarrete family pleaded guilty to beating and locking workers in trucks to force them to toil as agricultural laborers.
While the situation is grim, a number of human rights groups have introduced measures to better protect farm laborers and have coaxed major supermarkets to get on board.
In 2011, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) — a human rights organization — launched the Fair Food Program. Together with farmers, Florida tomato growers and participating retail chains, which included such giants as Walmart and Whole Foods, the program guaranteed increased wages and protections in the work place.
It also appointed a third-party monitor to ensure that farms complied with the tenants of the program, according to CIW.
The agreement called for a zero tolerance policy on forced and child labor, and wages were expected to jump to $17,000 a year, according to The Times.
Experts lauded the agreement as a groundbreaking move that could set a precedent for agricultural workers worldwide.
“If a handful of companies decided they wanted to end poverty among farm workers,” Schlosser said in the film, “it would happen very, very quickly.”