Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) leaders are celebrating a major milestone in the ongoing campaign to improve the lives of farmworkers. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) announced that Ahold USA became the first major grocer in the U.S. to join the CIW Fair Food Program. Ahold is the parent company of Stop & Shop, Giant Foods and online grocer Peapod and operates nearly 780 supermarkets in 14 states and the District of Columbia. 

Ninety percent of tomatoes produced in the U.S. from November to May are grown in Florida. The CIW says Ahold USA’s support for the Fair Food Program will “extend the retailer’s long track record on responsible product sourcing and strengthen the reach, impact and visibility of the CIW’s social-responsibility efforts. In addition, Ahold USA’s participation will increase the number of U.S. grocery stores carrying Fair Food tomatoes by nearly 75 percent.” 

PC(USA) leaders are hopeful other grocers will follow suit.

“On behalf of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), I want to commend the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Ahold USA on their agreement to improve wages and working conditions for farmworkers in the tomato fields of Florida and the Southeast,” said the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly. “The Fair Food Program is transforming the very structure of the industry, by leveraging the enormous purchasing power of these companies to advance human rights for farmworkers and guarantee the full participation of farmworkers in creating and upholding a more just food system.” 

CIW leaders say the announcement “builds on the work CIW, Ahold USA and its suppliers have done to deliver responsibly sourced tomatoes to customers and to help improve conditions for farmworkers in Florida.” 

“In this globalized world, it is especially poignant that a Dutch-owned company signs onto the Fair Food Program to ensure that farmworkers are treated humanely in the U.S.,” said Ruth Farrell, coordinator for the Presbyterian Hunger Program. “My prayer is that Kroger, Wendy’s and Publix will also join and that there will come a day when we know that behind every tomato we buy stands a farmworker who is respected and fairly compensated. Thousands of Presbyterians will continue to support CIW until it is so.” 

“What a huge victory for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, who have sustained this justice movement for two decades with creativity, tenacious organizing and brilliant strategy. All the while, they have remained true to democratic process and amplified the voices of those who grow and harvest much of the food we all eat,” said Andrew Kang Bartlett, associate with the Presbyterian Hunger Program. “At the core, the struggle is clearly about [the workers] claiming rights and building relationships among themselves and with all whom they connect. They are an inspiration! And we are thrilled that Ahold USA has broken the ice for major grocery chains to join the Fair Food Program.” 

In a released statement, Ahold USA Chief Operating Officer James McCann said the company is committed to responsible practices throughout its operations. “We have observed the Fair Food Program’s success over the years. Our companies and our customers care about the welfare of workers in our supply chain, and we believe now is the right time to begin an important new chapter in our partnership with the CIW.” 

The Rev. Dr. Glen Bell, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Sarasota (Fla.), has been a strong advocate for the Florida farmworkers. 

“We believe peace and justice is at the heart of Christian experience and discipleship,” said Bell. “Our congregation has supported CIW over the years, along with other migrant and farmworker initiatives, in their work to transform the lives of our neighbors.”  

Under the agreement, Ahold USA’s companies will continue purchasing Florida tomatoes only from growers who participate in the Fair Food Program and extend its standards to farms of participating growers in other states. The companies will also work with the CIW to ensure periodic inspections and audits of participating farms and provide additional financial support for the Fair Food Standards Council. 

Shoppers will also notice a difference in the stores as Ahold USA expands marketing and advertising, including store displays and social media support.