Walmart is about to make the lives of 30,000 farm workers picking tomatoes in Florida just a little bit better. Yesterday, the world's largest retailer signed on to the Fair Food Program created by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) that will pay the workers an additional penny per pound for tomatoes. Those same workers currently earn around a penny and a half for every pound of tomatoes they collect. Tomatoes are a $650 million a year business in Florida.
As part of the agreement, Walmart has also pledged to work with the CIW to expand the program for tomato workers outside of Florida and to other crops. The retailer plans to reward suppliers that participate in the Fair Food Program and work with them to build the penny premium directly into its costs.
"We are truly pleased to welcome Walmart into the Fair Food Program. No other company has the market strength and consumer reach that Walmart has," said Cruz Salucio of the CIW, in a statement. "Through this collaboration, not only will thousands of hard-working farm workers see concrete improvements to their lives, but millions of consumers will learn about the Fair Food Program and of a better way to buy fruits and vegetables grown and harvested here in the U.S."
"Walmart and our suppliers are committed to strong ethical sourcing standards and every day we work to help ensure the products we sell are produced in a way that provides fair treatment for workers in our supply chain," said Tom Leech, senior vice president of global food sourcing for Walmart. "Our participation in the Fair Food Program combined with long term supply agreements with our suppliers will ensure that our customers get great products at great prices from suppliers that are working to improve the lives of their workers."
Walmart is likely enjoying the favorable response it is getting from this latest action. The retailer is frequently the target of criticism by labor groups that say it is profiting from the low wages it pays employees.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLB) filed a complaint against the company this week alleging it violated the rights of employees around work stoppages at Walmart stores in 13 states.
According to the NLRB, the National Labor Relations Act guarantees that workers in the private sector may "act together to try to improve their wages and working conditions with or without a union." The NLRB complaint alleges more than 60 employees were disciplined, including 19 who were fired, for engaging in activities protected by law.
Walmart is disputing the NLRB's charges.
"We now have the opportunity to present the facts of these cases in front of a judge," Brooke Buchanan, a Walmart spokesperson told the Associated Press. "No reasonable person thinks it's ok for people to come and go from their scheduled shift without being held accountable."
How likely are other retailers buying tomatoes to sign on to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers Fair Food Program as a result of Walmart's action?