Fair Trade Provides Health and Safety Protections to U.S. Farm Workers

For 20 years, Fair Trade has empowered farmers and workers in countries around the world with protections against the harsh realities of agricultural work. Within the last two years, that has also come to include the United States.

This National Farmworker Awareness Week (March 24-31), it’s important to recognize and appreciate the estimated 2-3 million U.S. men and women who work the fields to feed us every day. By purchasing produce with the Fair Trade Certified™ sticker, we all have the power to make the world a better place to live and work for them.

Fair Trade creates safer workplaces

The people who plant and harvest our food face numerous health and safety threats on a daily basis. Farm workers can face exposure to toxic chemicals, heat stress, accidents, health and nutrition issues, and sexual harassment in the United States just as they can in Mexico, Peru, or Ghana—especially workers without legal status who are afraid to report issues to authorities. Farm work is the number-eight most dangerous job in the United States, yet one of the greatest challenges for farm workers is lack of access to health insurance and medical care. And while the U.S. has stronger labor laws and environmental protections than some countries, conditions for many agricultural workers are still far below Fair Trade Certified standards.

Farm work is the number eight most dangerous job in the United States.

Fair Trade provides health and safety protections to these workers that may be guaranteed but aren’t always enforced under U.S. federal law, like safe working conditions, access to healthcare and sick leave, rest and meal breaks, and safe worker housing. Fair Trade Certified farms, packing plants, and housing are audited and held accountable for fire safety, sanitary working and living conditions, and the use of protective equipment to prevent injuries and pesticide exposure.

Fair Trade brings affordable health insurance to U.S. farm workers

Within a year of becoming the first Fair Trade Certified farm in the U.S., workers at family-owned farm Wholesum Harvest in Arizona made their very first project investing in health insurance for workers. Even with employer-provided insurance available to all the workers, many still could not afford the employee cost, so workers voted to use the Fair Trade Community Development Funds to offset the cost. In January 2018, Wholesum Harvest went from less than 5% to now 88% of its workers opting in to the employee-provided health insurance. Compare that to just 35% of farm workers in United States who report having health insurance.

Wholesum Harvest went from less than 5% to now 88% of its workers having health insurance.

Fair Trade empowers workers

Adhering to Fair Trade standards comes with added benefit to farm workers. For every Fair Trade Certified product sold, the farmers who grew it earn an additional amount of money called the Community Development Fund. From there, a democratically-elected group of farm workers decide together how to spend these dollars to meet their unique social, economic, and environmental needs. In the case of Wholesum Harvest, that meant much-needed health insurance. In the United States and around the world, that can mean anything from childcare, to transportation, to scholarships and educational opportunities for children and adults.

Fair Trade USA has now certified a total of four U.S. farms in Arizona and California, with plans to certify as many as 45 growers in the U.S. and Canada in the next 5 years, according to Nathalie Marin-Gest, Director of Produce & Floral at Fair Trade USA.

To shoppers, this means every time you buy Fair Trade Certified fruits, vegetables, flowers, or any Fair Trade product for that matter, you're helping create more local and international success stories, putting money back into the hands that grew and harvested it and giving those farmers a voice in their futures.

Locate stores near you that carry Fair Trade Certified fruits, vegetables, and flowers.