An unfinished history...
New: SFA Timeline! Click here for a play-by-play history of SFA, 1999-2010.
The spark that ignited SFA was the 230-mile March for Dignity, Dialogue and a Fair Wage from Ft. Myers to Orlando, Florida, led by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in February 2000. This march provided the opportunity for students from several Florida colleges to learn about and directly participate in the movement to end "sweatshops in the fields."
But it was the March for Farmworker Justice from Quincy, Florida to the governor's mansion in Tallahassee in January 2001 that truly consolidated SFA into an organized network. The march was sponsored by five Florida farmworker organizations with the goal of getting Governor Bush more directly involved in farmworker issues. Over 30 students from across the state participated in the march, gathering over 1500 signatures on a petition to deliver to the governor.
No Quiero Taco Bell...
Since then, SFA has been at the forefront of a resurgent farmworker solidarity movement, organizing around the CIW's Taco Bell boycott extensively for four years beginning with a month of protests in February 2001. During this month, members of the CIW and SFA went to five major Florida universities in five consecutive weekends to raise awareness about the relationship between fast-food giant Taco Bell and the brutal poverty faced by farmworkers, highlighting the role students can play in this struggle. At each university, workers and students led well-received workshops followed by a protest at a nearby Taco Bell.
By April 1, 2001 -- the date of the CIW's official announcement of the Taco Bell boycott -- SFA had branches at three universities and strong connections with student organizations at every other major Florida university. Through these contacts, SFA organized an extremely successful day of action on May 1, 2001 with demonstrations in twelve cities affecting close to 30 Taco Bells across the state. The 2001 May Day of Action marked our first coordinated mass action in solidarity with the CIW, with many more to follow.
As awareness about the Taco Bell boycott spread, the alliance between students and Immokalee's farmworkers grew into a national network with ties to organizations at over 300 universities and 50 high schools throughout the U.S. In that time, SFA organized several National Days of Action around the Taco Bell boycott. In spring 2004, student support for the boycott hit fever pitch with hundreds of students at six college campuses across the country organizing hunger strikes to support efforts to "Boot the Bell" off their campus.
SFA played a key role in supporting the CIW's four major cross-country Taco Bell Truth Tours culminating in massive protests outside Taco Bell's headquarters in Irvine, California as well as the global headquarters of Yum Brands (Taco Bell's parent company) in Louisville, KY. In 2003, the tour included a 10-day hunger strike by farmworkers, students, and religious allies in Irvine; in 2004, the tour featured a 44-mile march from East Los Angeles to Irvine.
We also helped bring South Florida grassroots organizations together for a series of meetings resulting in the Root Cause coalition, which organized a 34 mile march against the 2003 FTAA Ministerial in Miami. This mobilization provided SFA an opportunity to explicitly link our work with struggles against corporate globalization and for global justice from the grassroots.
After nearly four years, the CIW won their national boycott against Taco Bell. Amidst the growing momentum of the 2005 Taco Bell Truth Tour and dozens of "Boot the Bell" campaigns on campuses nationwide (including 25 hard-fought victories since 2002), the CIW and Taco Bell reached a historic agreement on March 9, 2005. Without a doubt, years of persistent and creative student and youth organizing made this amazing victory possible.
From MCD's to Subway...
Following the successful conclusion of the Taco Bell boycott, SFA became a founding member of and catalyst behind the Alliance for Fair Food, signaling to the fast-food industry that the Campaign for Fair Food would not stop at Taco Bell. Since its birth in March of 2006, the AFF has become a powerful new voice for the respect of human rights in this country's food industry and for an end to the relentless exploitation of Florida's farmworkers.
And in April of 2007 -- following a two-year battle with the largest restaurant chain in the world featuring relentless action and education by students and youth across the country --McDonald’s and the CIW reached a landmark accord that not only met the standards set in the Taco Bell agreement, but also committed the fast-food leader to collaborate with the CIW in developing an industry-wide third party mechanism for monitoring conditions in the fields and investigating abuses. Just one year later, Burger King also agreed to work with the CIW after an unsuccessful campaign of dirty corporate tricks against SFA and CIW.
In 2006, the CIW reached out to Denver-based burrito chain Chipotle, asking the company to live up to its much-hyped and much-marketed "Food with Integrity" mantra. But rather than embracing the principles of Fair Food as part of its supposed commitment to ethically-produced food, to date Chipotle still refuses to work with the CIW to address conditions in its tomato supply chain. In the interim, the company responded to the campaign with distortions, hollow justifications, and silence, despite its highly-promoted commitments to animal welfare. In the summer of 2008, SFA and our friends at United Students Against Sweatshops turned up the heat on Chipotle with a spirited 100-person-plus action at its Denver headquarters and other actions, headquarter delegations, and public call-outs of Chipotle have abounded, highlighted by the 2008 cross-country Chipocrisy Tour. SFA'ers and other CIW allies with Denver Fair Food continue to be active around Chipotle while the company continues to refuse to address (or even engage in an honest debate about) the conditions under which its produce is harvested.
Fortunately, however, not all companies that feature social responsibility as a main pillar of their marketing strategy are as hypocritical as Chipotle. In 2008, following pressure from the CIW and a rousing, rainy shareholder's meeting protest by SFA'ers and CIW allies in Austin, Texas, organic supermarket chain Whole Foods Market came to the table and agreed to work with the CIW. The agreement marked the first supermarket chain to work with the CIW.
And just before the year ended, in December 2008 (on the eve of a Northeast Tour by CIW/SFA) Subway — the largest fast-food purchaser of Florida tomatoes — capitulated to mounting pressure and became the 5th overall corporation to agree to work with the CIW. The agreement signing ceremony, attended by several SFA members, took place at the Miami headquarters of Subway’s Independent Purchasing Cooperative on the first day of what was quickly changed to a "transition tour" to begin to lay the groundwork for the then-burgeoning supermarket and food service provider campaigns. By all accounts, 2008 was a remarkable year in the campaign.
Dine with Dignity...
In early 2009, SFA and our role in the campaign faced a crossroads: The Campaign for Fair Food was eight years old and five of the world's leading food retailers — including the top four fast-food corporations in the world — had agreed to work with the CIW to improve conditions in the fields. After months of discussion inside the network, with the CIW, and with other organizational allies, in March of 2009 SFA returned to intensive campus-based organizing with the Dine with Dignity Campaign aimed at campus food service provider leaders Aramark, Bon Appetit, Compass, and Sodexo. With this, SFA had embarked on a new chapter in our history and the history of the overall campaign, focusing on non-fast-food targets in a campaign led and shaped autonomously by SFA to a greater extent than at any moment in the previous eight years.
After an initial consultation and information-gathering phase, the Dine with Dignity campaign quickly escalated and students on dozens of campuses held creative actions, educational events, meetings with campus dining directors, and other mobilization tactics to seize upon the strategic leverage students hold over the food service provider industry as not only their main captive base of consumers, but also as the mass of people whose quiet acquiescence and approval these corporations rely upon in order to secure and maintain lucrative contracts with educational institutions.
After just one month, the Dine with Dignity campaign notched its first victory as Bon Appétit Management Company came to the table; they were followed in September 2009 by Compass Group (the world's largest food service provider and parent company of campus dining outfit Chartwell's), which struck an historic agreement with the CIW and with major tomato grower East Coast to improve conditions in the fields and fully implement the CIW's Fair Food program. The 3-way agreement was lauded by US Senator Bernie Sanders as signaling "the beginning of the end of the harvest of shame that has existed for far too long in Florida's tomato fields." During the agreement-signing press conference, Compass representatives credited the role of SFA bringing the plight of tomato pickers to the company's attention and opening the door to dialogue with the CIW.
In April 2010, responding to an escalating campaign waged by students on campuses across the country, Aramark became the third major food service provider to agree to work with the CIW. The agreement — establishing a supplier code of conduct developed and implemented with farmworker participation — came in the wake of several successful campus campaigns resulting in Student Senate resolutions calling on Aramark to work with the CIW and after a corporate spin campaign by the company possibly linked to attempts by the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange to undercut the gains of the Campaign for Fair Food.
Significantly, the Aramark agreement came almost exactly a year to the day after the launch of the Dine with Dignity campaign and 5 years after the Taco Bell Boycott victory.
Supermarkets & transitions..
Today we've turned yet another page. Chipotle, Quiznos, and Wendy's remain as holdouts from the fast-food industry, but through our tireless organizing and that of the farmworker community in Immokalee together with tens of thousands of allies and consumers across the country, the largest players in both the fast-food and food service provider industries have come to the table.
From marching with the CIW for 230 miles on the hot Florida pavement when the campaign aimed no higher than local growers and lawmakers, to taking on — and beating — some of the largest corporations in the world, students and young people have been an indispensable part of the CIW's struggle, contributing and learning; changing the world while being changed by this struggle and by our relationship with the workers from this once-forgotten corner of Florida. Today, we turn to the crucial supermarket industry, where giants such as Publix, Ahold (parent company of Stop & Shop and Giant supermarkets), Kroger, Trader Joe's, and Wal-Mart preside -- to extend and deepen the changes that have started to slowly bring a new day in Florida's fields. Until the sun shines brightly on a world of dignity, respect, fair wages and human rights for farmworkers — and for all workers — we will be there, marching. Join us!
A trip down memory lane...
Thanks to the magic of the internet, you can explore various incarnations of the old SFA site (2002-2006).
Previous versions of the CIW site are also treasure troves of information on our history — here are some highlights:
PO Box 603, Immokalee, FL 34143 :: (239) 657-8311 :: organize (at) sfalliance.org