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"Antonio Martinez stood in the hot sun, exhausted from a cross-country journey, and waited. Just 21 years old, he had traveled from Mexico to the U.S. with the promise of a well-paid construction job in California. But now he stood in a field in central Florida, listening to one man pay another man $500 to own him.

“I realized I had been sold like an animal without any compassion," Antonio thought at the time, more than 10 years ago."

So reports CNN Freedom Project.

Tomato pickers in Florida are paid less than two pennies for each pound of tomatoes they pick. That's the same pound you buy at the grocery store for anywhere between $1.50 and $4.00, depending on location and season. It's a poverty-inducing wage that has diminished in real value since the 1970s, even as the retail price of tomatoes has increased.

Here's what happens in the supply chain: major corporate buyers such as supermarkets, fast food chains and food service companies regularly purchase a massive amount of produce. Their huge purchases allow these companies to leverage their buying power and demand the lowest possible prices from tomato growers. This, in turn, exerts a powerful downward pressure on wages and working conditions in tomato suppliers' operations.

The result of this dynamic is thousands of workers like Antonio was – exploited, enslaved or held in debt bondage so growers can eek out a few more pennies and meet the major companies' bargain basement expectations. It's a dynamic that has existed for decades. But over the past few years, one grassroots organization has started to challenge the big buyers. And they're winning.

The article spotlights The Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their fight for stopping trafficking and other injustices.
To help fight the rampant human trafficking and other injustices in the tomato industry, The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) launched the Campaign for Fair Food in 2001. Their goal is to reverse the trend that exploits workers by harnessing the purchasing power of the food industry for the betterment of farmworker wages and working conditions. Over the past decade, they've made major headway.

CIW has succeeded in getting Taco Bell, McDonald's, Subway and Burger King to support raising farmworker wages by a penny-per-pound and implementing protections against human trafficking, sexual harassment, and other forms of exploitation. They've also convinced major food service companies, including Aramark and Sodexo, as well as the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, the largest tomato grower organization in Florida, to do the same. Now, they’re turning their attention to supermarkets (Whole Foods has supported CIW since 2008.)

Wendy's (All mentions of “Wendy’s” refer to The Wendy’s Company of One Dave Thomas Boulevard, Dublin, OH 43017) is the last fast food holdout. There is a petition by Left Action that is pressuring Wendy's to help end the abuse in the tomato industry.

Please add your voice. From the Petition:

A massive 90% of growers have already joined the Fair Food Program, an initiative with a proven track record in fighting modern slavery. And four of the five biggest U.S. fast food giants have signed the Fair Food Agreement, investing in the fight for a slavery-free agricultural industry.

But one company stands in the way of progress: Wendy’s refuses to join the Fair Food Program to ensure slavery is not in its supply chain. If Wendy’s follows the lead of McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King and Taco Bell, their immense purchasing power could help bring the last 10% of farms to the table and ensure the tomato industry never sees another case of modern slavery.

Call on Wendy’s – the final fast food hold-out – to help end slavery forever in Florida’s tomato fields.

Thank you.

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