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Human Rights from Field to Fork
Media Organization:Race/Ethnicity, Multidisciplinary Global Contexts
Date of Publication:Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Improving labor conditions for food-sector workers by organizing across boundaries
UUSC's Ariel Jacobson, senior associate for economic justice, has coauthored "Human Rights from Field to Fork," a research paper that analyzes injustices in the U.S. food system and offers ideas for positive social change in ways that benefit workers, consumers, and the long-term interests of the nationwide business community. The article was published in the academic journal Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts, a publication of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University and printed by the Indiana University Press. Her coauthor, Joann Lo, is executive director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance.
The 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 authors propose 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.
The analysis focuses on a food system in the United States in which over 20 million people are employed and the production and delivery of food from field to fork relies heavily on a vast, low-wage, exploited labor force. The paper traces the historical roots of a food system built on the backs of people of color and immigrants. The research includes extensive analyses of how exploitation based on race, ethnicity, gender, and immigrant status has sustained a nationwide food chain consisting of four major sectors: farmworkers, food-processing workers, grocery-store workers, and restaurant workers.
The study argues that collaborative efforts organized by the Food Chain Workers Alliance, UUSC, and many other grassroots and alliance-building groups provide evidence that the injustices that exist in the food-chain are coming under increased public scrutiny, and that positive change throughout the system is possible.
Among other things, the paper concludes that individual organizations can build more power and win more positive change by coming together with a shared vision. In contrast to a food system that relies on an exploited workforce, all food-sector workers, regardless of where they work, should be able to earn a decent living, participate in a healthy workplace, and eat healthy, sustainable food. In order to move faster toward this goal, the paper urges, workers should be more fully engaged in shaping the future of the food sector, overcoming biases of race and class and allowing for a food chain that prioritizes not just healthy, sustainable food, but fair and just working conditions for those who bring food to us, from field to fork.
Read the entire article at Human Rights from Field to Fork.