My eyes perked up when I saw this headline “Farm workers to pressure Stop & Shop.” (Stop & Shop is the most prominent Massachusetts grocery chain.) The thrust of the article is a campaign by the Florida based Coalition of Immokalee Workers to increase the price of tomatoes by $0.01 per pound.
The article explains the brutal conditions of tomato farm workers, their poverty-level incomes, and their efforts to raise awareness and wholesale prices, in creating a workplace rights code of conduct for retailers to adopt. Apparently a one penny per pound increase would make dramatic improvements in farmworkers’ lives.
The Stop & Shop spokeswoman set off my alarm bells in her published statement:
Workers should target growers–not supermarkets–for increased wages.
Yes, that would have been true in 1964, when the customers of Stop & Shop had limited visibility on such matters, and limited ability to respond. This blog alone demonstrates “game-changing.” I’m a Stop & Shop customer, and I am pressing “pause” when I pick up a tomato now. I wonder what kind of house the worker lives in, and whether child labor harvested my perfect Florida tomato. I can’t name a single commercial tomato grower, but I know Stop & Shop and I can act. Anyone with a computer can, efficiently and easily.
But the bigger point I am mulling is not “Social Media is Powerful.”
It is, rather, “There is no such thing as a free lunch. Can campaigns like this farmworker one overcome the huge betrayal people feel towards big businesses and Wall Street to really believe that the cost of something is actually a cost, and not just increasing marketing budgets and executive paychecks?” If these Florida farmworkers can successfully get people to connect what they pay for tomatoes to real human beings, living in their own country, with American-size bills to pay, and dreams for their children like their own, that would be a huge victory.
It can roll forward to other common foods. It can roll forward to textiles. It can roll forward to electronics. It can roll forward to all the things we buy that shape our economy, and our world. If something seems too good to be true (Bananas for 20 cents a pound! 50% off on a meal! 70% off on dry cleaning!), it probably is. Someone, usually the least powerful person in the supply chain, is paying for it. With their time, and their undervalued work, and their desperate livelihoods.
That’s the timing shift that can’t come soon enough, in my book.