Continuation of Agriculture Exemptions Preserves A History of Inequality

In 2001, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) launched the Campaign for Fair Food with the first-ever farmworker boycott of a major fast food company. The mission was to hold the fast food chain Taco Bell accountable for frozen wages, poor living conditions, exposure to pesticides, and slavery rings where its produce was grown and harvested. After four years of struggling to bring these human rights abuses to light, the campaign was victorious. On March 2005, CIW helped secure a number of key standards for farm labor reform, but the struggle for equitable labor provisions continues.

Currently, federal law does not require employers to pay farmworkers any overtime at all. Where is the equality? In the most extreme conditions, the tomato industry in Florida has been described as “ground zero” for Modern-day Slavery. The truth of the matter is, whether they are tomato pickers in Florida or the many young migrant and seasonal farmworker children working in our nation’s fields without even the most basic protections, it is imperative our laws be amended to include the men, women, and children who harvest our food if we value equality.

CIW’s decade-long campaign for labor reform is focused on Florida’s tomato industry.   AFOP, including the Children in the Fields Campaign, the Health & Safety Programs, as well as our 52 member organizations are encouraged by the great success CIW has achieved for Florida farmworkers. As longtime advocates of migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families, we are working to ensure farmworkers in every state receive basic protections, including fair living wages, reasonable limitation of working hours, in addition to safe and healthy working and living conditions—conditions provided in nearly every other industry.

The Children in the Fields Campaign is currently focused on advocating for migrant and seasonal farmworker children by supporting the elimination of the discriminatory agriculture exemption in the federal child labor law (Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938).   The campaign’s goal is to ensure farmworker children receive the same protections provided to children in all other industries, while preserving educational opportunities provided by 4-H and Future Farmers of America and continuing to allow children of any age to work on their parents’ farm.

Every year hundreds of thousands of children as young as 12-years-old are legally hired in fields and orchards throughout the United States to perform back-breaking farm work, free from legal restriction to work for an unlimited amount of time outside of school hours. As a result, migrant and seasonal farmworker children, working in conditions deemed illegal in every other industry, face daunting educational barriers, injuries from hazardous farm equipment and poisonous pesticides, and sometimes death.  Do these children not deserve the same level of protection all other children receive? Visit our website and Facebook page for more information on how to get involved and be an advocate on behalf of these children left without a voice.

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