Female farmworkers are among the most vulnerable work populations in the agricultural industry. Studies show that many of these women suffer from workplace harassment that involves sexual abuse and other illegal actions. Florida’s female farmworkers, many of whom do not speak English fluently, are likely to be accosted in processing facilities, fields and orchards. Perpetrators go unpunished because victims are afraid to bring the violations to light. Many of these women do not understand the workplace protections that could prevent them from losing their jobs. Now, new initiatives are under way to assist these vulnerable workers, addressing sexual harassment in the workplace by promoting responsible employer action.
A new movement, known as the Fair Food Program, is taking hold within the Florida tomato-growers’ industry. Under the program’s guidelines, growers pledge to abide by a very specific code of conduct designed to protect workers from workplace harassment. The Fair Food Program actually has the power to enforce this code, as major companies such as McDonald’s, Trader Joes’ and others will only deal with growers who are in good standing with the organization.
Many growers say the resources provided through the program have helped them cut down on the rates of sexual harassment within their companies. Although the evidence is only anecdotal so far, it appears that the program may actually be improving workplace culture for female farmworkers. Not only does the Fair Food Program audit farms for compliance, it also provides a bilingual help hotline for those who believe they may have been sexually harassed.
Advocates in the industry say that even more organizations should get involved in order to prevent the incidence of sexual harassment among farmworkers. The involvement of occupational safety and health groups could improve conditions for these employees, for example. These workers deserve safe workplace free of sexual harassment and threat of physical assault.
cironline.org, “5 ways to combat sexual abuse of female farmworkers” Bernice Yeung, Sep. 23, 2013