Equitable Food Initiative Provides Insight in New Report
WASHINGTON - Recently, the Equitable Food Initiative released the results of a two-year study undertaken by BSD Consulting to assess the impact of EFI’s workspace development programs. The study found that a variety of positive outcomes resulted for the business when fresh produce farming operations engaged workers and managers in an EFI leadership team and taught them to work collaboratively to comply with standards for labor practices, food safety, and pest management.
“The staff feel more empowered, more engaged in our business, and their voices matter,” Kevin Doran, CEO of Houweling’s Group, said. “This has led to a tremendous amount of improvements that wouldn’t have been obvious to us unless they brought them forward.”
According to the press release, some of the positive outcomes included improving working conditions, developing skills in workers and managers, strengthening management systems, enhancing business performance, and ultimately creating a cultural shift within grower organizations. The report also shows how EFI helps fresh produce suppliers meet and exceed compliance with the Ethical Charter on Responsible Labor Practices as evidenced in the outcome areas defined throughout the report.
One manager interviewed by BSD Consulting noted, “Farmworkers feel more accountable after training and participation in [EFI] leadership teams, as they see the whole perspective of the organization. There is a notion of belonging to something bigger. What we do takes all of us—nobody can do it on their own.”
Another manager stated, “One might erroneously think that a university diploma gives us the pure truth. Those who have the day-to-day detailed knowledge are the farmworkers. The EFI program has helped us reinforce the belief that unleashing their full potential just makes sense.”
Managers and workers across departments and levels cited improvements in communication following the implementation of the EFI model on their operations, which led to greater accountability, efficiency, and continuous improvement. A manager interviewed for the study shared, “[EFI leadership team members] represent workers and help us manage workers’ questions and expectations. Communication flows better, shedding light to issues we were not aware of before.”
Over the course of 2017-2018, the study concluded and procured 19 farm visits, 21 focus groups, 476 interviews, and the analysis of 81 audit reports. The research assessed the impacts of the EFI program based on the theory that if the workforce is properly trained and incentivized to collaborate with management in developing a safe, stable, and dignified working environment, then new value is created for growers and buyers. To date, 59 farming operations in four countries have implemented the EFI model, resulting in safer and healthier working conditions for 34,000 farmworkers. More than $6.5 million has been generated in worker bonuses through the premium paid by participating retailers on certified product.
As working conditions are discussed more, the fresh produce world as a whole can only grow to be a better, sustainable, and productive industry.