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ECIP helps implement fair labor practices


Ethical labor practices have been an issue in the fruit and vegetable industry for decades.

But only in recent years has the industry attempted to outline and implement fair labor practices in an organized way.

To address this issue, the Ethical Charter on Responsible Labor Practices was adopted in January 2018 by the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and the United Fresh Produce Association (United Fresh), which have since combined to form the International Fresh Produce Association BB #:378962.

But even signatories to the charter were not quite clear what the next step should be. Although it was widely acknowledged that there should be some method of verification, there has been widespread resistance to audits.

The next step is the Ethical Charter Implementation Program (ECIP), which operates under the aegis of the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) BB #:385632.

The program’s website says that ECIP “is a collaboration among retailers/buyers, grower-shippers and implementing organizations to recognize and strengthen engagement around labor practices in the fresh produce industry, highlight existing best-practice efforts, and identify opportunities for continuous improvement.”

“We didn’t set out to build a compliance system,” explains Kenton Harmer, director of market-based impact for EFI. “We built what we set out to build — a system that will reward continuous improvement and result in increased capacity of suppliers to be aligned with the ethical charter.”

“We’re asking about management systems,” Harmer continues, “in a way where [companies] have a credible self-assessment of where they are at and how and how to improve if they need to improve. We’re giving people a chance to see where they’re at. Through the program, we can give them a path forward and give them the support that they need to then continue on the journey of getting more and more in alignment with the ethical charter.”

Harmer adds, “We’re establishing a floor that can apply to the entire fresh produce supply chain across the Americas.”

The ECIP guidelines outline a number of key management systems that will enable participants to assess their own practices. One part spells out terms for ethical recruitment: “Terms of employment are clearly and consistently communicated to prospective employees, in a language they understand; and upon hiring these same terms are documented in a written employment agreement.”

Other criteria are set out indicating whether the company’s compliance with these requirements is high, medium, or low. The website also enables participants to outline next steps for themselves.

Costs for participants range depending on the size of the operation: small growers pay $200; suppliers pay between $1,800 and $9,000, depending on sales.

The system is currently operative, although up to this point participation has been by invitation only.

The ECIP advisory group includes people from companies such as Tanimura & Antle BB #:115075, Taylor Farms BB #:154001, and Naturipe BB #:165382, as well as Kroger BB #:100073, Costco BB #:150902, Walmart BB #:143789, and Target BB #:166987.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with correct pricing structure.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.