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New EFI certification spotlights social responsibility for farmworkers

The Equitable Food Initiative's Responsibly Grown, Farmworker Assured label also encompasses food safety and pest management.

Shoppers at Costco, Whole Foods and Compass/Foodbuy will soon notice a new certification label gracing the produce aisles: the Responsibly Grown, Farmworker Assured label from the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI). Unlike many other certifications, which focus primarily on benchmarks met by the final product, EFI’s label focuses on what happens on the farm, specifically social responsibility, food safety and integrated pest management. “The farms achieve that status by building teams through which workers and managers collaborate to create a workplace culture that promotes both compliance and improved business performance,” says EFI executive director Peter O’Driscoll.

The Responsibly Grown, Farmworker Assured label encompasses more than 300 standards applied to more than 30 farms in over 40 fresh produce commodities, including strawberries, tomatoes, corn, onions, cucumbers, brussels sprouts, green beans and others. The result? Better working conditions, heightened protection against discrimination and sexual harassment, improved communication between farmworkers and managers, and an overall culture shift that promotes trust and collaboration. Here’s how they do it:

Leadership teams

EFI works directly with each certified farm to develop a Leadership Team that represents all parts of the workforce. This team is responsible for bringing the farm into compliance with EFI standards, but also creating a vital channel for communication. “They represent different work functions of the farming operation,” says O’Driscoll, “and reflect the gender and regional diversity of the workforce.” A a result, all farmworkers have a voice and are directly involved in the design and implementation of certification protocols, and are trained to work together with management.

Farmworker bonuses

“Each purchase of EFI-certified produce generates a bonus that goes directly into the pockets of agricultural workers,” says O’Driscoll. “The bonus rewards the additional diligence these skilled workers bring to their role.” Currently, participating buyers pay a modest premium for EFI-certified produce, which is returned to the workers directly in their paychecks. “In the past five years, purchases of EFI-labeled produce have generated approximately $8 million in worker bonuses,” explains O’Driscoll, which workers report using for utilities, school supplies, gas, shoes and clothing for their families. “Farmworkers have a great deal of skill, experience and perspective that can contribute to food safety if that experience is sought and emphasized,” he adds. “EFI helps to bring that farmworker knowledge to the fore, and compensates them for the role they play in food safety efforts on farms.”

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