Driscoll’s Soren Bjorn Discusses Worker Welfare Initiative and Fair Trade USA Pilot Program
WATSONVILLE, CA – Over the past several months, Driscoll’s has been working tirelessly to ensure that proper working conditions are in place on the independent farms that supply its berries.
Soren Bjorn, Executive Vice President of Driscoll’s of the Americas, recently spoke to me on the complex issues that surround the company’s Worker Welfare initiative and its commitment to provide all of its farm workers with clean, healthy, and respectful working environments.
“Our growers are independent, but we take full responsibility for everything that happens in our farms because it’s our brand on the packaging. There’s a clear expectation from our consumers that we need to have accountability for everything in our chain of command,” Soren tells me. “The biggest thing that we can achieve in a short period of time is to ensure that everyone who works in our supply chain is treated with respect and that they have a voice in their community.”
In 2015, Driscoll’s formalized and publically published global Worker Welfare standards, which represent additional criteria that apply where local, state, or federal laws do not exist, are not consistently enforced, or provide lower protection to the workers, according to a press release. An independent, third-party auditing firm ensures that these standards are being upheld in all 22 countries where Driscoll’s operates.
This year, Driscoll’s launched a small pilot program with Fair Trade USA to bring to market Fair Trade-certified organic strawberries and organic raspberries that are grown in Baja, Mexico. Select Whole Foods and Costco locations are already getting behind this program to give back all additional funds generated from the sales of these berries to the farmworkers. Through a democratic vote, these funds can be invested in much-needed community projects, like educational stipends, environmental training, healthcare services, clean water, or other social services not provided by local governments.
“One element of our pilot program is that we are implementing a hotline that all farmworkers can go to whenever they have any concerns,” Soren continued. “Real change can only happen if we start a dialogue with our workers and identify what the issues are, so we can go in and work on those issues.”
This is just one small step as part of a much larger issue that needs to be addressed in the industry, Soren assures me. But these efforts are not going unnoticed, and Driscoll’s is continuing to have conversations with NGOs and several international organizations to demonstrate its commitment to continue improving how farm workers are treated.
“The biggest challenge now is to create an infrastructure where we can start a dialogue,” Soren says. “Our hope is that we can lay a foundation where we can give confidence to our employees that we are going to listen to them and not retaliate if they complain. We are committing ourselves to improving our business and our practices, and in so doing, we can begin solving the issues our workers are facing today.”
To read more about Driscoll’s sustainable business practices, click here.
By implementing this Worker Welfare initiative, Driscoll’s is one of the many companies leading the way in giving farm workers a voice and the opportunity to work in a safe, healthy environment.