You’ve heard the argument before: we need “illegals” so we can keep paying low prices for our fruits and vegetables. The basic argument is that, since undocumented immigrants need work, they’ll work for cheap. And paying those workers less ensures that our produce stays cheap.
One Half of One Percent
Next time you hear the argument, keep this in mind: For each 32 pound bucket of tomatoes a farmworker picks, he or she will receive, on average, $.50. Those 32 pounds of tomatoes when purchased at the Publix grocery store in Naples, FL, on Sunday however, cost farmworker advocates $79.63. Do the math: .50 divided by 79.63 equals, rounding up, 0.0063.
That means that farmworkers earn roughly one half of one percent (0.63%) of the final price of a pound of tomatoes at the checkout counter. 99.5% of the final price of tomatoes goes to everyone else in the supply chain, with the lion’s share going to the corporate supermarkets, like Publix or Wal-Mart, who make millions in profits from farmworker poverty.
So why, then, are growers around the country telling farmworkers that they cannot afford to raise their wages? Part of the reason is that corporate buyers have used their increased purchasing power to demand cheaper produce. As Wal-Mart grows, it commands a larger and large portion of the retail market and, therefore, has more influence over produce growers. Squeezed by corporate buyers on one side, and raising production costs on the other, growers try to control their costs the only place they can: lower wages, increased workloads, faster paced work and–in the most extreme cases–modern-day slavery.
So if corporate buyers are pressuring growers for cheaper fruits and vegetables, why don’t we see lower prices at the produce stand? The reality is that the corporate food industry is equally happy exploiting farmworkers and consumers alike, demanding more produce for less and passing the savings on to their profits instead of on to consumers. It is precisely the recognition of that overlapping exploitation that has infused the farmworker-led Campaign for Fair Food with it’s sustained energy. Consumers and farmworkers have united to demand dignified wages and working conditions and an end to mondern-day slavery from the corporate food industry.
Farmworkers–no matter their immigration status–deserve dignified wages and working conditions. And as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Campaign for Fair Food have demonstrated time after time, corporations profiting off of farmworker poverty can easily raise wages without raising retail prices–for documented and undocumented, citizen and immigrant alike.