Check out the article “Human Rights from Field to Fork: Improving Labor Conditions for Food-sector Workers by Organizing Across Boundaries,” published in the latest issue of the journal Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Context focused on “Food Justice.” The article is co-authored by Food Chain Workers Alliance Director Joann Lo and Ariel Jacobson, Senior Associate for Economic Justice at the Unitarian Universalist SerPagesvice Committee, with contributions by Daniel Gross of Brandworkers International, Jose Oliva of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, and Diana Robinson of the UFCW Local 1500. This issue of the journal explores the intersection of race and food in the national and global food systems.
In the United States, over 20 million people work in the food system, joining millions more around the world whose labor and livelihoods are in the food sector. The food system has become increasingly globalized, with much of what we consume here in the United States produced overseas. International trade policies, consolidated corporate control, and increased industrialization of food production have converged to build a food system that relies heavily on exploited labor forces — from tea plantations in India, to banana plantations and packing operations in Guatemala, to cocoa farms in Ghana. Meanwhile, the segments of the food sector that remain in the United States, whether on large-scale farms, or in processing plants, restaurants, and grocery stores located in communities throughout this country, rely heavily on a vast, low-wage labor force.
This paper researches and analyzes how the historical roots and current practices in the food sector reflect a widespread disregard for workers’ human rights, and how discriminatory power relations between employer and employee are directly connected to the intersection of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and immigration status in all stages of the food chain. The paper proposes specific ideas for ending unjust labor practices in food-sector industries; for encouraging workers to organize in collaboration throughout the food chain, and across racial and ethnic lines; and for creating new business models that will better serve the interests and protect the rights of workers, consumers, business owners, and other stakeholders.