Equitable Food Initiative Charts Its Progress in 2018
- by Anne Allen
WASHINGTON - While 2018 may have been a year of ups and downs (not to mention more than a few weather incidents), Equitable Food Initiative took huge steps forward this year. These accomplishments began with welcoming two new companies to its list of certified growers, followed by the unveiling of a new website—which earned the prestigious Hermes Creative and Telly awards for its updated brand logo and new video series— and the publication of articles on ways the fresh produce industry can put the new Ethical Charter on Responsible Labor Practices into action. Aside from these accomplishments and accolades, it is the positive impact of its certification program on individuals that EFI is most proud of.
“Our mission is to bring together growers, farmworkers, retailers and consumers to transform agriculture and improve the lives of farmworkers,” stated LeAnne Ruzzamenti, Director of Marketing and Communications. “So, when we get feedback from growers that our certification program is making a difference in not just improving their business but also improving the lives of farmworkers, we know we’re on track in achieving our mission, and that’s more valuable than awards.”
Over the past year, as part of the EFI certification process, the Leadership Team has accomplished many successes, including improving the workforce recruitment and retention for participating growers by undertaking initiatives to improve working conditions, develop collaborative work processes, offer access to more educational opportunities.
According to the press release, some of the top challenges facing EFI Leadership Teams on farms are general working conditions. The company is working to develop more trust between workers and management since higher levels of worker engagement organically arise from an environment of trust and collaboration.
“The staff feels more empowered, more engaged in our business, and their voices matter. This has led to a tremendous amount of improvements in our business based on their feedback on simple things that wouldn’t have been obvious to us unless they [the employees] brought them forward,” shared Kevin Doran, President and CEO of Houweling’s Tomatoes.
Reflecting on the demographics of the workforce, EFI Leadership teams are cross-level and cross-functional teams that address and support issues benefiting both the worker and the business. Some companies have reported searching for progressive solutions to help ease the transition from maternity leave—one supplier added lactation tents for privacy and refrigerated storage for breastfeeding new moms. In addition, one grower is tackling the language barrier by offering onsite classes to help workers learn English as a second language, and a supplier in Mexico has been working with the National Institute for Adult Education to increase literacy among its farmworkers.
Currently, 20 grower-shipper companies across 39 commodities have started applying the EFI Leadership Team model. These efforts have not only improved the companies' bottom lines but also enhanced the lives of more than 30,000 farmworkers who are exposed to new opportunities for advancement and skill development. Nearly $6 million in bonuses have been paid by participating retailers to farmworkers through EFI’s premium program.
“When we look back on 2018 we have a lot to celebrate. Thanks to our dedicated partners, we are proving we can help the produce industry unleash the potential and skills of farmworkers,” remarked Ruzzamenti. “Together we can build better companies that transform the lives of farmworkers while creating a safer, more socially responsible and transparent supply chain for consumers.”
We at AndNowUKnow celebrate these sorts of socially conscious and enriching programs, and will keep you updated on programs and policies of this ilk.