Bon Appétit Marks 10th Anniversary of Inventory of Farmworker Issues and Protections

Overhead view of farmworkers in a field

Image credit: Equitable Food Initiative

Bon Appétit Management Company has long thrown our weight behind farmworkers striving to improve their working conditions and achieve greater labor protections.

Twenty years ago, Bon Appétit was the first foodservice company to side with PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste), a union of farmworkers and tree planters, in their successful boycott of produce grown by Oregon’s largest food processing and packaging cooperative, NORPAC, which had refused to bargain with labor leaders.

A decade later, our collaboration with the United Farmworkers (UFW) led to a conversation with a large produce distributor, who, when asked about the plight of farmworkers in the United States, assured us that “everything is fine, produce is a highly regulated industry. No large grower would risk the consequences of violating the strict labor laws.” We were dissatisfied with that broad assertion. Little did we know that our knack for asking uncomfortable questions would spawn a massive effort aimed at providing a clear, comprehensive, and objective picture of the sub-standard treatment of farmworkers in the United States.

“We compiled the Inventory so the conversation about the lack of legal protections for farmworkers could be based in undeniable facts. These were not anecdotes but instead laws and verified government data.” — Maisie Ganzler, Chief Strategy and Brand Officer

In partnership with the UFW and with support from Oxfam of America the Inventory of Farmworker Issues and Protections was born. The Inventory was first-of-its-kind fact-finding document detailing the lack of laws and protections that exist for farmworkers — including issues ranging from occupational health and safety loopholes, to forced labor. As it turned out, everything was not fine.

The impact of the Inventory and the collaborations it stemmed from are still being felt. In an effort to create verifiable and enforceable standards for safe and fair agricultural work, Bon Appétit, the UFW, and Oxfam worked together again, with a group of strange bedfellows including growers, purchasers, and consumer, environmental, and farmworker advocates, to create the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI). Spun off from Oxfam in 2015, EFI now operates as an independent nonprofit that brings greater transparency to the supply chain while helping the produce industry address some of its toughest issues like labor, sustainability and food safety.

Ten years on, the issues brought to light in the Inventory remain of critical importance. During this year’s National Farmworker Awareness Week from March 25-31, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, HR 5038, recently passed by the US House of Representatives, will sit in the backlog of bills waiting to be addressed in the Senate. Supporters of the bill aim to provide a path to legal status for undocumented farmworkers in the United States, giving over a million people additional labor protections over time.  While this bill signifies a glimmer of hope, continued action by policymakers, and multi-stakeholder collaborations like EFI are needed to ensure a better future for farmworkers.