Study: EFI worker engagement model creates positive outcomes for grower-shippers

(Photo: EFI) The NatureSweet Tomatoes greenhouse produce leadership team at a farm in Mexico.

PRESS RELEASE: WASHINGTON, November 12, 2019 Equitable Food Initiative released the results of a two-year study undertaken by BSD Consulting to assess the impacts of EFI’s workforce development programs. A summary report of the research notes how the EFI model is improving working conditions, developing skills in workers and managers, strengthening management systems, enhancing business performance and ultimately creating a cultural shift within grower organizations.

The study found that when fresh produce farming operations engaged workers and managers in an EFI leadership team and taught them to work collaboratively to comply with standards for labor practices, food safety and pest management, a variety of positive outcomes resulted for the business. When EFI was applied to develop workers’ soft skills and to provide the systems that engage them, farming operations experienced advances in organizational culture and management systems.

One manager interviewed by BSD Consulting stated, “One might erroneously think that a university diploma gives us the pure truth. Those who have the day-to-day detailed knowledge are the farmworkers. The EFI program has helped us reinforce the belief that unleashing their full potential just makes sense.”

Another manager noted, “Farmworkers feel more accountable after training and participation in [EFI] leadership teams, as they see the whole perspective of the organization. There is a notion of belonging to something bigger. What we do takes all of us – nobody can do it on their own.”

Managers and workers across departments and levels cited improvements in communication following the implementation of the EFI model on their operations, which led to greater accountability, efficiency and continuous improvement. A manager interviewed for the study shared, “[EFI leadership team members] represent workers and help us manage workers’ questions and expectations. Communication flows better, shedding light to issues we were not aware of before.”

The research found that improvements to working conditions, communication, and trust and transparency resulted in a farming operation’s ability to attract and retain the best talent, improve motivation, increase productivity and strengthen innovation.

“The staff feel more empowered, more engaged in our business and their voices matter,” Kevin Doran, CEO of Houweling’s Group, said. “This has led to a tremendous amount of improvements that wouldn’t have been obvious to us unless they brought them forward.”

Over the course of two years (2017-2018), both quantitative and qualitative data were used to construct a comprehensive assessment of the EFI program. The study included 19 farm visits, 21 focus groups, 476 interviews and the analysis of 81 audit reports. The research assessed the impacts of the EFI program based on the theory that if the workforce is properly trained and incentivized to collaborate with management in developing a safe, stable and dignified working environment, then new value is created for growers and buyers.

In addition, the summary report shows how EFI helps fresh produce suppliers meet and exceed compliance with the Ethical Charter on Responsible Labor Practices as evidenced in the outcome areas defined throughout the report. The Ethical Charter specifically calls for labor-management communication, worker protections and management systems that result in continuous improvement – objectives met by EFI’s program as affirmed by the third-party research.

To date, 59 farming operations in four countries have implemented the EFI model, resulting in safer and healthier working conditions for 34,000 farmworkers. More than $6.5 million has been generated in worker bonuses through the premium paid by participating retailers on certified product.

About EFI

Equitable Food Initiative is a nonprofit certification and skill-building organization that seeks to increase transparency in the food supply chain and improve the lives of farmworkers through a team-based approach to training and continuous improvement practices. EFI brings together growers, farmworkers, retailers and consumers to solve the most pressing issues facing the fresh produce industry. Its unparalleled approach sets standards for labor practices, food safety and pest management while engaging workers at all levels on the farm to produce Responsibly Grown, Farmworker Assured® fruits and vegetables. For more information about Equitable Food Initiative, visit www.equitablefood.org.