The Power of Locavores to Stop Slavery

CSA Week 11 – from

Each year, as many as 5% of farm workers are forced laborers. These are not slave-like conditions – this number refers to actual slavery, in which the worker is not allowed to leave. It does not include the many severe abuses carried out against normal farm workers in America every day.

Unlike many forms of slavery around the world, forced labor in the US agricultural industry has a fairly simple solution: Stop the demand.

Of course, if demand for any type of slavery ended, the slavery would also end. But in the agricultural industry, slavery is not demanded by thugs, criminals, the poorest citizens, or men only. Slavery is demanded by you and by me.

CIW describes the solution to agricultural slavery this way:

The CIW believes that the ultimate solution to modern-day slavery in agribusiness lies on the “demand side” of the US produce market — the major food-buying corporations that profit from the artificially-low cost of US produce picked by workers in sweatshop and, in the worst cases, slavery conditions. Ultimately, those modern mega corporations must leverage their vast resources and market influence as major produce buyers to clean up slavery and other labor abuses in their supply chains once and for all.

I respectfully disagree. It would be a wonderful thing if something like this could ever happen, but consider me a cynic.

It is not Burger King’s or Wal-Mart’s responsibility to choose what I eat and how I eat it. They are not even humans, they are corporations. They exist for business and the bottom line, and the bottom line is still ultimately set by consumers.

All around the country a growing local food movement encourages active participation with local farms. Farmers’ markets, do-it-yourself classes, gardening and seasonal eating have all become more popular.

The local food movement centers around a lot of different presumed benefits, including environmental friendliness, healthier eating, access to organics, and a sense of community. But the most important benefit to stopping slavery is the accountability it provides.

For example, Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs supply families with affordable farm-fresh food and usually allow visitors to spend time on the farm. Some CSAs encourage members to work on the farm every once in a while as a trade for a lower grocery bill.

Farmers’ markets encourage communication with the farmers and their workers, including interns, family members and other people involved in the production process. If you know the farmer personally, it is rare for them to deny you a visit to the farm.

New Leaf CSA in Brattleboro, VT

Visiting a farm or working on it to help cover your grocery costs is not meant to be a form of surveillance. It is not usually necessary to go to the farm with binoculars and a list of questions, assuming these are somehow corrupt slave-owners letting you pick their eggplant.

What sets these open, local farms apart from farms that practice slavery and abuse is the transparency they allow. Rarely will a criminal show their crime to anyone who wants to look, and likewise many of the worst farms are closed off, hidden, and terrified of being found out.

Unfortunately, as CIW points out, these are also the farms providing fast food companies with salad ingredients. They are the ones putting fruit in the frozen fruit pies and corn in the frozen corn dogs.

Large corporations have not proven that they care at all about what happens on their farms, as long as it’s cheap. Their marketing encourages ignorant over-consumption. Their lobbyists have a lot of power and law enforcement often arrives too late, if at all.

The answer is in consumers refusing to allow it any longer, in our chocolate, in our tomatoes, in our coffee, in our meat. The answer is buying slave-free products, from nearby when possible.

The solution in that sense is very, very simple. But unfortunately not very likely.

2 Responses to “The Power of Locavores to Stop Slavery”
  1. Claire says:

    I did a CSA share this summer, and I have LOVED it! It has really stretched my cooking (what DOES one do with Swiss chards week after week?), and I can’t begin to express how lovely and satisfying eating food that was picked from a nearby farm the DAY I pick it up is. I hope I can find a CSA wherever I live!

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