Equitable Food Initiative Reflects on the Impacts Made in 2019
WASHINGTON - With the end of 2019 so near, the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) is looking back on a year chock full of impactful efforts to increase transparency in the food supply chain and improve the lives of farmworkers. Specifically, EFI’s staff, board members, and partners are proud of the strides made to fulfill the nonprofit organization’s mission, which included a whole host of successes.
“From engaging farmworkers who feel more valued to providing bonuses that help cover basic necessities, our success is measured by how we improve farmworkers’ lives,” said LeAnne Ruzzamenti, Director of Marketing Communications for EFI. “And now 57 farming operations are applying the EFI program with active leadership teams who work to create safer and healthier conditions for 34,000 workers. As these numbers continue to grow, it’s important to reflect on the stories of the individuals and organizations who have been impacted.”
In 2019, EFI’s participating growers helped to implement a wide variety of initiatives, including those aimed at improving working conditions, overcoming language barriers, developing a more collaborative work environment, and providing more access to education and skill building. These efforts are strengthened by EFI’s formation of leadership teams. Over time, these teams help create a new culture that is focused on problem-solving and improvement.
“EFI helps us engage our workforce at every level so that they understand and have input on the processes that make our food safer,” added Dan Borer, General Sales Manager at Keystone Fruit Marketing. “Our employees feel like they are part of the organization. If they see something in the field or in the packing house that they know isn't right they have that freedom to come forward. It really makes a difference when you make this type of change. You are telling those workers that you are listening to them and giving them credit for the knowledge they have.”
According to a press release, the extra training and diligence expected from farmworkers on EFI-certified farms is rewarded with a bonus drawn from the sales of EFI produce to participating retailers. This year, more than $2 million will be distributed in bonuses, bringing the total to more than $8.5 million since the program’s inception.
“The farmworkers report on the necessity of these bonuses to cover basic needs such as buying food, shoes, and clothing; paying utility bills; and saving for Christmas gifts,” noted Ruzzamenti. “Many of us might take these items for granted, but the EFI bonus program is helping meet farmworkers’ daily needs.”
In 2019 alone, EFI-certified suppliers reported a number of improvements that came about as a result of the bonus program. For example, one supplier installed high-traffic carpet foam for added foot comfort in the area used to cut and prepare fresh produce, while another team installed a smog vacuum to improve air quality for employees working in its greenhouses and investigated the accidents caused by auto-driving carts.
Inclusivity is also an important component of EFI’s initiatives, which is why a Baja California-based leadership team focused on embracing the indigenous languages spoken by more than 75 percent of farmworkers at their location. As a part of this effort, the team will develop learning materials on the EFI standards in both Ch'ol and Tzeltal so they are accessible to all employees.
“The program has greatly helped those of us who speak a mother tongue. It was difficult before, some barely know how to speak Spanish and they do not understand it well. EFI has taught us that everything is possible,” remarked one of the team members in Baja California.
Improving the lives of farmworkers also includes creating safe spaces for them to bring their concerns. EFI has created these spaces, which have helped address concerns like safety and decreasing interpersonal conflicts. Specifically, greenhouse employees have asked for better lighting in parking lots and behavior guidelines on work-provided transportation.
All of EFI’s work this year to further its mission was further bolstered by accomplishments like:
- Receiving $1.2 million grant from Walmart Foundation to advance responsible labor practices in Mexico
- Welcoming 15 new operations to its program
- Partnering with Costco Wholesale on a joint promotional campaign
- Updating its standards to align to the Ethical Charter on Responsible Labor Practices
- Continuing progress toward Global Food Safety Initiative accreditation
- And unveiling a two-year study by BSD Consulting that quantifies effectiveness of its programs
“We’re excited about EFI’s growth in 2019. It’s wonderful to know we are making a difference in helping our growers improve their bottom lines while improving the lives of farmworkers to create a safer and more transparent supply chain for both retailers and shoppers,” concluded Ruzzamenti.
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