Equitable Food Initiative, the capacity-building and certification organization that partners with growers, farmworkers, retailers, and consumer advocacy groups, has launched its annual campaign to raise awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace, particularly in agriculture.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and EFI is using the time to shine a light on this important topic. A toolkit on the EFI website, found at equitablefood.org/harassment, provides three awareness posters and an informational one-pager available for download, as well as links to access the ‘¡Basta! Prevent Sexual Harassment in Agriculture’ toolkit and training module.
EFI supported the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center, a part of the University of Washington Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, in developing the ¡Basta! toolkit, which is free to use and available for download. Printed copies of the toolkit contents can be ordered for a nominal fee, and a self-paced training module is also accessible, with scholarships available. In June, EFI and the BASTA Coalition of Washington will co-host an educational and training webinar specifically for the fresh produce industry.
Research from the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that 80% of all Mexican immigrant farmworkers report being sexually harassed on the job site, while advocacy groups estimate that as many as 85% of women have experienced sexual harassment at work.
“We understand this can be a challenging and uncomfortable topic to discuss,” said LeAnne Ruzzamenti, director of marketing and communications for EFI, “but data shows that farmworkers face sexual harassment at a rate two to three times higher than other work sectors – and that makes this a problem we can’t ignore.” She continued, “Farmworkers often fear losing their jobs, being removed from the U.S., or being denied entry for speaking out. Language barriers can also prevent them from understanding they should not tolerate inappropriate behavior, which could include verbal or physical assault from anyone, including supervisors or coworkers.”
“We believe the best way to educate and prevent sexual harassment is through training that promotes community awareness, comprehensive worksite participation, and protective policies,” said Isabel Reyes-Paz, director of the BASTA Coalition of Washington. “Peer-to-peer trainings led by those with direct experience of the workplace context as well as common cultural and language background can provide a deep quality training. Our resources are designed by a multistakeholder group, especially for the agricultural industry.”
EFI offers a workforce development and training program that focuses on integrating worker voice throughout a farming operation by developing communication, conflict resolution, and problem-solving skills among managers and workers. EFI partners with grower-shippers to create more open, respectful, and safe working environments that maintain a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment.
Ruzzamenti concluded, “EFI is proud to bring resources to the industry that assist employees at all levels with having these challenging conversations. We are committed to facilitating culture change to improve the lives of farmworkers and create safer food and a more responsive, skilled labor force. Openly advocating for zero tolerance of sexual harassment is just one way we can facilitate that.”