About the Fair Food Program

Mechanisms Overview

The value of the Fair Food Program stems from both the standards outlined in the Fair Food Code of Conduct, which go well beyond the requirements of law, and the multi-layered approach to monitoring and enforcing compliance with those standards. The package of advanced, innovative standards and rigorous enforcement underlies the most comprehensive, verifiable and sustainable social responsibility program in US agriculture.

Fair Food Agreements

These legally binding agreements between CIW and Participating Buyers are won through the national alliance of farmworkers and consumers that drives the Campaign for Fair Food.

The agreements include two crucial provisions: the Fair Food Premium, and Market Enforcement of the Fair Food Code of Conduct. These agreements set the parameters by which retail food companies participate in the Fair Food Program, ensuring that their commitments translate into verifiable reforms.

Fair Food Premium

Grinding poverty and real social accountability cannot co-exist.  Worker-driven Social Responsibility is premised on the participation of workers as the front-line monitors of their own rights in the workplace.  But workers who worry about putting the next meal on their family’s table are often too constrained by fear to be effective monitors and defenders of those rights.

Participating Buyers in the Fair Food Program therefore commit to pay the Fair Food Premium on top of the regular price they pay for tomatoes. This small but powerful premium helps alleviate the economic hardship faced by farmworkers for decades.  Since its inception, the Fair Food Program has added $15 million to Participating Growers’ payrolls. The Fair Food Standards Council carefully tracks all Fair Food Premium payments through the supply chain and to its final distribution as a line-item bonus on workers’ paychecks.

Market Enforcement

The Fair Food Code of Conduct is backed by binding agreements between CIW and many of the largest buyers of tomatoes in the world, from Subway to Walmart.  Participating Buyers are required to suspend purchases from growers who have failed to comply with the Code of Conduct.  These agreements therefore provide a real market incentive for Participating Growers to abide by fair labor practices, resulting in unprecedented reforms in Florida’s tomato industry, including the successful elimination of forced labor in the fields that federal prosecutors dubbed “ground zero for modern-day slavery” just a few years ago.  Sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and wage theft are now the exception, rather than the rule.

Worker Education

CIW conducts worker-to-worker education sessions at all Participating Growers’ farms throughout the season. The curriculum is developed and delivered by CIW farmworker staff.

In addition, upon hire, all workers receive the Know Your Rights and Responsibilities booklet and watch the accompanying video.  The booklet was written by CIW and is available to workers in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole. The video was produced by CIW in collaboration with an award-winning documentary film company. Workers are paid by the farm for all time spent in Fair Food Program training.

Both the worker-to-worker and point-of-hire education are essential to providing workers with the information necessary to know and protect their rights under the Fair Food Code of Conduct. This helps workers identify abusive supervisors and potentially dangerous practices, preventing abuses before they occur. In this way, the Fair Food Program harnesses the power of thousands of trained and motivated monitors on the ground every day to ensure farms’ compliance with the Code of Conduct.

Complaint Mechanism

Open lines of communication between workers in the fields and growers overseeing vast operations from the office are essential to the success of the Fair Food Program. When workers encounter a potential violation of the Code of Conduct, the Program provides them access to a fast, effective and proven complaint process, with strict consequences for retaliation against workers who make a report.

The toll-free complaint line is answered by a bilingual Fair Food Standards Council investigator, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Complaints are investigated and resolved by FFSC, normally in collaboration with growers.  Whenever possible, complaint resolutions include an educational component, consisting of meetings with relevant supervisors and crews, so that all workers on the farm can see that complaints are heard and resolved without retaliation, and the farm’s commitment to the Program is reconfirmed.  All steps in the complaint process are documented in the FFSC database, resulting in an important compilation of information on the conduct of individuals, as well as company practices.


The Fair Food Standards Council is the dedicated third-party monitoring organization for the Fair Food Program. One of its principal tasks is to conduct in-depth audits on Participating Growers’ farms. With access to company records at the farm office level and access to the fields to observe harvesting operations and talk to workers first-hand, FFSC auditors are able to bring an unprecedented level of transparency to participating farms.

The FFSC audit process includes interviews conducted with very large percentages of workers – normally over half a company’s workforce. These interviews take place in the field as well as off-site, such as at worker housing, on the buses that transport workers, and at morning pick-up spots. Additionally, FFSC auditors interview all levels of management, from senior officers to field supervisors, and review company policies and logs to assess implementation of the Code of Conduct. Auditing also includes on-site review of the company’s payroll records to ensure that workers are properly compensated, that timekeeping systems are functional and used for minimum wage calculations, and that the Fair Food Premium is accurately distributed as a line-item bonus on workers’ paychecks.

Following the conclusion of an audit, FFSC generates a report and drafts a corrective action plan for the farm, which serve as a detailed roadmap to full compliance and as the launch point for the next round of audits. At the request of some growers, FFSC also assists in drafting model company policies and training company supervisors on those policies.