2003: Coalition of Immokalee Workers, United States
Ending Modern-Day Slavery and the Exploitation of Migrant Workers in the U.S. Agricultural Industry.
Lucas Benitez, Julia Gabriel and Romeo Ramirez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) are the first human rights defenders to accept the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award for their work in the United States. Farmworkers themselves, they have become leaders in the fight to end slave labor, human trafficking and exploitation in agriculture fields across the U.S.
Farming has become a multi-billion dollar industry in which corporations negotiate with growers to purchase mass quantities of product for the lowest possible prices. To maintain profits and income for growers, suppliers and labor contractors, farmworkers' wages have been drastically reduced to far below poverty levels. Furthermore, the rights to organize and collectively bargain for farmworkers are not protected by the U.S. National Labor Relations Act. Many of these workers have become enslaved and victims of gross human rights abuses. In response to this crisis, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a farmworkers’ rights group, was developed to promote fast food industry-wide change.
The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights partnered with CIW to lobby major produce buyers in the fast food industry to implement an industry-wide surcharge on Florida tomatoes that will provide a livable wage for Florida’s farmworkers. In March 2005 and April 2007, CIW signed historic agreements with Yum! Brands (parent company for Taco Bell) and McDonalds, respectively, implementing the CIW’s demand for the one penny more per-pound wage increase. RFK Center and CIW are working to broaden consumer and government awareness to instigate legislative change to eliminate the exploitation and enslavement of U.S. farmworkers. RFK Center is also a founding member of the Alliance for Fair Food (AFF), a network of human rights, religious, student, labor and grassroots organizations dedicated to advancing the human rights of farmworkers.