Equitable Food Initiative Celebrates Five Years of Workforce Development Support
WASHINGTON, DC - Five years have passed since the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) officially launched, and the company has never stopped in its commitment to improving the produce industry. Back in 2008, the program was first conceived and then incubated within Oxfam America until it was incorporated as an independent nonprofit in 2015.
It has since trained leadership teams on nearly 60 farming operations in North and Central America, improving working conditions for more than 36,000 farmworkers. Participating retailers so far have paid more than $8.5 million in worker bonuses through premiums generated on EFI-certified products.
“As we celebrate our fifth anniversary, it’s important to reflect on what has made us successful and what will drive us into the future,” said Peter O’Driscoll, Executive Director for EFI. “The magic of EFI is that we bring voices from across the supply chain together to find solutions that create value for all stakeholders. We don’t have all the answers ourselves, but we know how to bring together the right people to find them. That collaborative process builds a whole solution greater than the sum of its parts.”
The initiative noted that as the world weathers a global health pandemic, it becomes more apparent how organizations like EFI can help. A press release explained that applying lean management strategies in the fresh produce industry provides farming operations with the tools to solve complex issues, from meeting customer requirements to reorganizing work processes.
During the coronavirus outbreak, farms with EFI-trained teams were able to quickly respond to emerging recommendations.
“I have often remarked how thankful I am for the EFI workforce development model and the importance of worker-manager teams, but that has never been more evident than during this crisis,” said Vic Smith, CEO of JV Smith Companies. “Because of EFI, we were able to ensure communication easily flowed to more than 2,500 workers. EFI is the right partner in times both of crisis and normalcy.”
At EFI’s conception, some of the founding EFI board organizations included Costco Wholesale, Bon Appetit Management Company, Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce, NatureSweet Tomatoes, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, Oxfam America, Pesticide Action Network North America, Farmworker Justice, FLOC, PCUN, and United Farm Workers.
Over time, EFI became more than just a certification program. It now offers comprehensive workforce development programs and introduces problem-solving skills, labor-management communication channels, and a continuous improvement orientation to help meet evolving business demands.
Engaging workers in maintaining the highest standards, EFI’s emphasis on both compliance and business performance is unlike typical certification programs, the press release went on to say. It covers three key areas, such as labor practices, food safety, and pest management in a one-stop-shop single audit format. This allows growers the chance to reduce the cost and timeliness of multiple audits. Plus, a growing number of retailers now accept EFI’s certificate in lieu of their proprietary social responsibility audits.
Now operating in four countries—the United States, Mexico, Canada, and Guatemala—EFI is looking toward expansion in Central and South America as interest from growers increases. As it continues to hear from retailers about the importance of addressing new and existing challenges, EFI will also continue developing tools and resources for the fresh produce industry to meet the needs of a changing food supply chain.
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