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How farmworkers are bringing a solution to sexual assault to New York

HOST INTRO: The MeToo movement has left a lot of industries struggling to find policies to deal with sexual harassment. But agricultural workers in Florida believe they’ve found a solution – and they’re bringing their campaign to New York. Stevie Hertz reports.

HERTZ 1: We’re in Midtown Manhattan and Noelle Damico is guiding me through a protest. She wants me to meet someone…

DAMICO 1: We’re going to squeeze through, bear with me 

HERTZ 2: Damico helped organise the march. It’s a large crowd, chanting, playing music, and carrying 11-foot tall papier mache puppets of farm workers. They’re here to support people like Gerardo Reyes Chavez

CHAVEZ 1: I haven’t eaten for four days, today’s the fifth day. 

HERTZ 3: Chavez is one of over 70 protesters who are fasting. He used to work on a tomato farm and got a bus all the way from Florida to be at the protest. He’s trying to draw attention to the Fair Food Program – a code that protects the working conditions of agricultural workers – with better pay, working conditions and… stopping sexual assault

CHAVEZ 2: What we have with the fair food program is kind of like the cure, for cancer. The cancer being sexual harassment, happening everywhere. With more prevalence in the tomato fields and in agriculture in general in this country.

HERTZ 4: Chavez says the Fair Food Program is effective because how well it’s enforced – workers don’t face retribution for speaking up and an independent organization conducts regular checks, where at least 50% of employees at the farms are interviewed. This makes it different from other schemes, says Shawn Sellers, who also campaigns for the Program

SELLERS 1: Most corporate social responsibility programs are aspirational, they’re voluntary, a corporation puts out a code of conduct and then when suppliers are out of compliance there’s no real consequence.

HERTZ 5: But he says this program is different – if the farms don’t enforce the standards, all the big companies that are part of it – like Walmart, McDonalds, Taco Bell – representing 60% of the market for fresh tomatoes in the states – won’t buy from them.

SELLERS 2: When growers are facing the prospect of losing business, they would rather clean up their operations than allow a rogue supervisor to be committing sexual harassment or sexual assault.

HERTZ 6: So the campaigners are outside the offices of the chairman of one company that hasn’t joined the program and going on a hunger strike to get their attention. They want Wendy’s to join. Now, Wendy’s didn’t want to be interviewed, but a spokesperson said that they just don’t buy tomatoes from the area where the program operates and that Wendy’s has good working conditions outside of the Fair Food Program, certified with third-party assessments.

HERTZ 7: But historically, sexual assault has been widespread across the agriculture industry.  Nely Rodriguez used to pick tomatoes in Florida. Now she campaigns for the Program. She’s seen the problems of sexual assault in agriculture, first hand. How it starts at the top

RODRIGUEZ 1: You’re surrounded by other men who are trying to stay in the good graces of the boss by following their example in terms of vulgarities and crude jokes. You don’t feel very comfortable, but you know that your ability to put food on the table for your family is tied to your ability to work 

HERTZ 8: Dr Susan Marquis, Dean of the RAND Graduate School, says that the Fair Food Program changes all that

MARQUIS 1: the workers in the fair food program have eliminated sexual assault and they have nearly eliminated sexual harassment, which is extraordinary 

HERTZ 9: And now, she says, it’s growing. It’s not just tomatoes in Florida anymore, but it’s in farms up and down the east coast, including New Jersey. And it could go further

MARQUIS 2: The lessons learned from this applies to almost any industry. It works in a Hollywood production office, it works in a research lab, certainly restaurants and the like.

HERTZ 10: So, back at the protest, Chavez is excited about spreading the program to other industries too.

CHAVEZ 3: We’re talking about a solution that has proven to work and I feel that this country is awakened to this reality, which makes it the perfect for all of us to combine our efforts.

HERTZ 11: But right now, they’re focusing on Wendy’s – and trying to keep their mind off their stomachs

Stevie Hertz, Columbia Radio News


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