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The real cost of tomatoes

Il documentario Food Chains racconta le massacranti condizioni di lavoro di un gruppo di braccianti agricoli dediti alla raccolta dei pomodori.

Slavery was abolished by the United States House of Representatives on 31 January 1865. Yet, it still exists, and documentary film Food Chains proves it. It is directed by Sanjay Rawal and narrated by Forest Whitaker, and it tells the story of a group of hired hands in Florida, which are the modern-day slaves. If you wonder if the documentary is a time lapse, the answer is no. Harvesters’ hands move so quickly, in order to pick 480 kg of tomatoes, the amount demanded in an hour.

The hired hands make shifts of 9 hours for an average wage of 42 dollars. “We live squeezed like animals in narrow accommodations,” tells one of the labourers. Degrading conditions hired hands work in are not imposed by farmers, but by fast food chains, restaurants, and supermarkets, whose contract with buyers set the economy of the entire supply chain.

 

A group of tomato pickers of Immokalee, Florida, fought this demeaning situation, gathering in the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Immokalee is one of the United States’ major tomatoes producers, and the coalition, through strikes and boycotts, asked companies to pay one cent more for each pound of tomatoes. The coalition also launched Food Fair, programme that grants elementary human rights once systematically violated, and earning competitive wages to workers.

 

Some of the major US sellers joined Food Fair, including Trader Joes, Wal-Mart and Whole Foods, as well as fast food giants like McDonald’s and Yum Brands, owner of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC. Producers are incentivised to respect Food Fair. In fact, companies have committed to purchasing tomatoes exclusively from farmers who stick to the rules, paying them one cent more per kilo, which is destined to pickers.

To date, the agreements between sellers and producers are limited to tomatoes fields in Florida. In fact, abuses of power, such as scant wages, back-breaking working hours and sex abuse do continue in several areas of the country. However, through his documentary, Sanjay Rawal highlights the importance of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and demonstrates that an ethical agriculture is possible.

Translated by

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