The Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ “Proven Model” for Ending Sexual Harassment and Empowering Workers

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

No one from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers appears on Billboard’s Hot 100 or stars in an eagerly-anticipated Hollywood blockbuster, but each of its members has been fighting against sexual harassment in the workplace and winning for over a decade, Greg Kaufman reported for the Nation in January 2018.

Eighty percent of female farmworkers report having experienced some form of sexual violence on the job.  In 2005, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) decided to combat this crisis with its Fair Food Program in Florida’s tomato growing industry.  The FFP put financial pressure on tomato growers to implement a code of conduct that covered, among other human rights issues, a zero-tolerance policy for sexual misconduct.

If a grower could not or would not completely and fully enforce this code of conduct, the CIW had an agreement with the biggest buyers of tomatoes in Florida’s $600 million tomato industry—including Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, among others—to halt all purchase of that grower’s tomatoes.

The financial ramifications of a grower ignoring misconduct balanced the power considerably in workers’ favor.

The CIW led a grassroots effort to educate the public on the plight of the farm workers and used that public support to pressure major corporations to sign on to the agreement.  Since the code of conduct has been in place, workers are no longer living in fear of losing their jobs if they report abuses. As Nely Rodriguez, a CIW staff member, told the Nation, “We’ve shown how the power of the market can be used to improve the conditions in the field.”

The CIW model has proven so successful in giving voice to marginalized workers that it is being studied by the construction industry in Minnesota, for citrus and watermelon farming in Texas, and even by the garment industry in Bangladesh, the Nation reported.

A March 2018 article on Business Wire reported that CIW members were planning a five-day protest fast in New York in front of the hedge fund offices that own Wendy’s restaurants. Wendy’s has been major holdout from the Fair Food Program.  Only BusinessWire and AGDAILY deemed the planned protest newsworthy.  No major new outlets covered it. (A February 2018 Mother Jones interview featuring Dartmouth history professor, Annelise Orleck, author of “We Are All Fast-food Workers Now”, noted that CIW was coming to New York to stage a boycott and hunger strike against Wendy’s in order to pressure the company to source its tomatoes only from growers with zero tolerance for sexual violence.)

The sea change underway in the entertainment industry has featured prominently in recent news coverage, but the establishment news outlets that have highlighted #MeToo have largely ignored everyday working women and their ability to facilitate change. While the headlines on sexual harassment typically put spotlights on public figures such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and others, the CIW has been rarely, if ever, mentioned in establishment media coverage.

Nonetheless, as Kaufman observed in the Nation, a “CIW-like movement” led by the women of Hollywood could establish legally binding agreements with major corporations, “declaring that they would not buy advertising on network shows that were in violation of a code offering recourse to victims of harassment or assault.” Agreements with streaming content providers like Netflix, cable providers, and national movie-theater chains could, Kaufman wrote, “send a signal that sexual misconduct will not be tolerated in the television and video supply chain, and that companies that do not comply with the agreed-upon code will experience severe economic consequences.”


Greg Kaufmann, “What Farmworkers Can Teach Hollywood About Ending Sexual Harassment,” The Nation, January 18, 2018,

“Florida Farmworkers Announce 5-Day ‘Freedom Fast’ and ‘Time’s Up Wendy’s March’ to demand Wendy’s Join Fair Food Program and Help End Sexual Violence in the Fields,” Business Wire, March 08, 2018,

“Florida Farmworkers to Fast, Join ‘Time’s Up Wendy’s March’,” AGDAILY, March 9, 2018,

Student Researcher: Kevin Nielsen (College of Western Idaho)

Faculty Evaluator: Michelle Mahoney (College of Western Idaho)