Friday, March 2, 2012

ITown's Ups and Downs

Students in front of tomato creates after out tour in the plant

Today was once again an action packed day in Immokalee.  We began our morning getting an exclusive tour of a tomato packing plant, which is the middle stopping point tomatoes make before being distributed throughout the country.   The plant was not operating today while we were touring because production starts later in the day once the produce arrives.   Many questions were asked surrounding two topics:  the labor force in the fields and the issues surrounding farmworkers, and changes in the labor force within the plant as a result of a transition to more technology and less physical handling of the delicate tomatoes.  We were presented with answers that personally, I found difficult to fully believe.  It was interesting how the responses to each question seemed tailored to actually answer a different, yet similar, question, and were also incredibly rehearsed.  For example, a fellow student asked a question about genetically modified food and the answer was about organic food.  While the two topics both concern popular topics in agriculture, they are in fact quite different.  Having been to the same packing plant in a previous trip (during which they were operating), it was impossible for me not to think of all the people that lost jobs as a result of the technology.  Sure, the change is supposedly safer in terms of health and potential bacterial contamination issues, however that does not hide the apparent fact that half of the production line I saw on the first trip was missing, and what was still there had no stools in front of it for people to sit at.  Again, this topic was avoided with the statement that after the shift to computer operated tomato inspection all employees were trained to operate the computers.  Realistically, companies do not make multimillion-dollar investments AND keep the same labor force.  Diversion after diversion occurred with each of the questions, and finally questions probably became a little too close to home for our visit to be welcomed anymore, and our time at the plant came to an end.  
While the visit was frustrating because of the warped view on reality and ignorance our two guides possessed, it is important to remember that the company that operates this plant did sign the worker’s rightsagreement with the CIW in October 2010.  Signing this contract means abiding by the Code of Conduct (which includes auditing, safety regulations, complaint resolution, and worker education) and agreeing to pay farmworkers the penny more per pound (the heart of the Campaign for Fair Food).  Despite the past major victories and recent strides the CIW has been able to make throughout the Campaign for Fair Food, resistance is still being seen and the focus now has shifted to grocers including Publix, Kroger, and Giant.  Hopefully, these companies will come to terms with human rights and agree to abide by things most of us take for granted every day:  dignity for the human person. 
-Michelle, 5th year Pharmacy 

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