Miami Law's new Human Rights Clinic and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) will collaborate on a project this spring term to promote and defend the rights of Florida farm workers.
As part of the Fair Food Complaint Resolution Oversight Project – also known as Fair Food CROP – Clinic students will help investigate complaints by tomato pickers who allege workplace violations of the Fair Food Code of Conduct. The Code, based on human rights principles, was developed by the CIW in conjunction with several of America's largest food corporations and recently adopted by virtually the entire Florida tomato industry.
The Code and complaint mechanism that the clinic students will help enforce is designed to address and reverse decades of extreme deprivation. Students will interview workers, locate witnesses, evaluate credibility, conduct any necessary legal research and, as appropriate, help fashion corrective action plans. Students may also assist in the production of video and/or printed materials designed to inform farm workers of their rights.
The Fair Food CROP Project stems from a set of recent landmark agreements between the CIW and major Florida tomato growers to extend the CIW's Fair Food principles – including a strict code of conduct, a cooperative complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process – to over 90 percent of the Florida tomato industry. In a recent editorial, the New York Times called the latest agreements "a remarkable victory in a 15-year struggle for better pay and working conditions."
"We are truly fortunate to be able to work with the University of Miami Human Rights Clinic as we embark on the development of this exciting new approach to farm labor reform in Florida," said Gerardo Reyes of the CIW. "We have always felt that the urgent need to modernize agriculture in our state was not just a farm worker community problem, but a Florida problem, one that affects the state as a whole and requires all available resources to solve. This partnership underscores that fact, and the energy and insight that these young scholars will bring to the table will undoubtedly be invaluable in that process."
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a community-based organization of mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout Florida.
Fair Food CROP is among the first projects undertaken by the new clinic, which aims to expose students to human rights litigation and advocacy at the local, national and international levels. Nine students have been chosen to participate in the spring term; they will be expected to attend class for one hour and fifty minutes, twice weekly, in addition to spending approximately 18-20 hours per week on clinic project and case work.
Through the Project, students will learn first hand from the CIW about how core principles of law, organizing, and alternative dispute resolution can be used to vindicate workers' rights when the law provides only limited remedies. Approximately 2-4 students will be assigned to the "CROP team" and will travel regularly to Immokalee, Florida, approximately 115 miles northwest of Miami, to conduct interviews and meet with CIW workers and staff.
"I am thrilled that Fair Food CROP will be one of the Human Rights Clinic's flagship projects," said Caroline Bettinger-Lopez, an Associate Clinical Professor and the Director of the new Clinic. "What better way for students to learn core lawyering and advocacy skills than by collaborating with CIW – a local organization that is widely recognized for initiating one of the most successful human rights and corporate social responsibility campaigns in the United States?"
In addition to the Fair Food CROP project, the Human Rights Clinic will take on two other projects next semester. The first will focus on access to justice for victims of rape in Haiti, where rape laws have only recently been enacted and are rarely enforced. The second, picking up on the case of Jessica Lenahan (Gonzales) v. United States, seeks to ensure that the United States respects and protects the human rights of domestic violence victims, just as the U.S. demands of the rest of the world.