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Walmart signs agreement with CIW, expands reach of Fair Food Program

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Consumers who support farm worker rights will have more options for buying ethically-sourced fruits and vegetables from their neighborhood supermarket, thanks to an agreement reached yesterday between Walmart and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

In signing on to the CIW's Fair Food Program, Walmart is joining Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and other food retailers in agreeing to source their tomatoes only from Florida growers who pay fair wages and treat their workers in accordance with national and international human rights standards.

"Walmart and our suppliers are committed to strong ethical sourcing standards, and every day we work to help ensure the products we sell are produced in a way that provides fair treatment for workers in our supply chain," said Tom Leech, senior vice president of Global Food Sourcing for Walmart. "Our participation in the Fair Food Program will ensure that our customers get great products at great prices from suppliers that are working to improve the lives of their workers."

The majority of Walmart's Florida tomato suppliers currently participate in the Fair Food Program. On these farms the agreement will take effect this season. The CIW will work with Walmart and its remaining suppliers over the coming season to develop the systems and practices necessary to bring them online by the beginning of the 2014 growing season.

Walmart's size will enable the company to extend the Fair Food Program beyond Florida, and beyond the tomato industry. "No other company has the market strength and consumer reach that Walmart has," said Cruz Salucio of the CIW. "Through this collaboration, thousands of hard-working farm workers see concrete improvements to their lives."

Millions of consumers will also learn about a better way to buy fruits and vegetables grown and harvested in the United States, Salucio said.

Unlike most of the food corporations who have joined the program, Walmart signed on without an aggressive campaign by the CIW and its regional allies. Regional grocery retailers Publix and Kroger are still refusing to reach an agreement with the CIW after years of public consumer campaigns.

Alexandra Guáqueta, chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, attended the signing ceremony yesterday. "It's great to see the world's biggest retailer, Walmart, join this kind of ground-breaking accountability arrangement," she said.

"It combines law enforcement with rules agreed to by the parties which go beyond existing regulation. Together these deliver respect for human rights and better living standards for workers."

The CIW's program includes independent monitoring of working conditions and investigation of worker complaints by the Fair Food Standards Council.