Human Rights Strategist Greg Asbed | 2017 MacArthur Fellow

The current phase of my career is
finding ways to sustain the expansion of worker-driven social responsibility, not
just here in this country, not just here in agriculture, but around the world. My
name is Greg Asbed, and I’m a co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a community-based, farmworker-driven human
rights organization. The situation in the 90s led them to call this area ground
zero for modern-day slavery. Women were routinely, routinely sexually harassed or
assaulted in the fields. People were held against their will, forced to work and
everyone faced, you know, wage theft. We created the Campaign for Fair Food. We
realized that the powers that actually do drive poverty in this town
exist outside of the town, beyond the farm gate. It’s the major brands who have
all the buying power. In 2011 we were able to launch the Fair Food Program,
which was actually bringing together all the buyers and growers here in the
Florida tomato industry. We create a program that that is uniquely successful
and based on a unique mix of mechanisms that ensure–both through worker
participation and real enforcement tools– real enforcement power, which is the
buying power of the major brands. It ends up being a win-win-win proposition. You
know, farmworkers’ lives are improved, immeasurably, every day. The growers
individually become better operations with less risk, and the buyers no longer
have to worry about the possibility of another slavery case coming out. That
model has had tremendous success of this program has spread up the East Coast and
has inspired a new model that we have called worker-driven
social responsibility. The idea behind worker-driven social responsibility
is that there are two central elements. One is worker participation from
beginning to end of the process. The other is is that element of enforcement. And the WSR paradigm can be applied anywhere that there are these global supply
chains and there are the the major brands who have the power at
the top of those chains. Part of my work is the new paradigm itself–expanding
that and building it out so that not just hundreds of thousands of more
agricultural workers in the United States can enjoy the protections of the
Fair Food Program, but millions of more workers around the globe can enjoy the
protections of a WSR program. In Vermont there’s an organization of workers there
called Migrant Justice and they’ve been working for years to protect
workers’ interests in the dairy industry. And they have gone about building their own
model based on the Fair Food Program there. In Bangladesh
health and safety problems in the apparel industry have been there for
generations. There were two factory incidents that got so much media
attention that there was a consensus that something new had to be done. They
call it the Bangladesh Accord, and it sets forth a worker-driven social
responsibility model approach. We have a Worker-Driven Social Responsibility
Network which brings together groups to work toward increasing the awareness and
the adoption of WSR principles. So that work will be
helped a great deal, I think, by the recognition that comes with this, and of
course the award that comes with this will go to those same things–to
expanding our work and sustaining it.

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