In 2018, Equitable Food Initiative welcomed two new companies to its list of certified growers, unveiled a new website, earned the Hermes Creative and Telly awards for its updated brand logo and new video series, and published articles on ways the fresh produce industry can put the new Ethical Charter on Responsible Labor Practices into action. But with all these accomplishments, EFI said what makes it most proud is the positive impact its certification program has on individual lives.
“Our mission is to bring together growers, farmworkers, retailers and consumers to transform agriculture and improve the lives of farmworkers,” stated LeAnne Ruzzamenti, director of marketing and communications for EFI. “So, when we get feedback from growers that our certification program is making a difference in not just improving their business but also improving the lives of farmworkers, we know we’re on track in achieving our mission, and that’s more valuable than awards.”
According to EFI, this past year, participating growers improved workforce recruitment and retention by undertaking initiatives to improve working conditions, develop collaborative work processes and offer access to more educational opportunities. These are just some of the successes that the organization said has been generated through Leadership Team training as part of its certification process.
The first issues often addressed on farms by EFI Leadership Teams are working conditions, and improvements help to create more trust between workers and management, EFI notes. They observed that trust and collaboration leads to higher levels of worker engagement.
“The staff feel more empowered, more engaged in our business, and their voices matter. This has led to a tremendous amount of improvements in our business based on their feedback on simple things that wouldn’t have been obvious to us unless they [the employees] brought them forward,” shared Kevin Doran, President and CEO of Houweling's Tomatoes.
EFI Leadership Teams, which the organizations says are cross-level, cross-functional teams that reflect the demographics of the workforce, often address and support issues that benefit both the worker and the business. For instance, some companies are looking at progressive solutions to help ease the transition from maternity leave. One supplier reported adding lactation tents for privacy and refrigerated storage for breastfeeding moms. Another grower is offering onsite classes to help workers learn English as their second language. And a supplier in Mexico has been working with the National Institute for Adult Education to reduce illiteracy among its farmworkers.
Today, 20 grower-shipper companies across 39 commodities have begun applying the EFI Leadership Team model. According to EFI, their efforts have improved company bottom lines and the lives of more than 30,000 farmworkers who are experiencing opportunities for advancement and skill development. Participating retailers have paid nearly $6 million in bonuses to farmworkers through EFI’s premium program.
“When we look back on 2018 we have a lot to celebrate. Thanks to our dedicated partners we are proving we can help the produce industry unleash the potential and skills of farmworkers,” remarked Ruzzamenti. “Together we can build better companies that transform the lives of farmworkers while creating a safer, more socially responsible and transparent supply chain for consumers.”