Jan 5, 2023
For 2022, EFI sees expanding operations

The Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) experienced a year of growth in 2022 through new partnerships and tools to transform the produce industry and improve the lives of farmworkers.

In a news release, EFI, the workforce development and certification organization that partners with growers, farmworkers, retailers and consumer groups, discussed how the year brought increased recognition of EFI’s stringent certification program, combined with preparation to support new initiatives and growth.

“The fresh produce industry has been severely challenged in recent years by the combination of COVID, supply chain disruption, inflation, uneven regulation, labor shortages and more frequent extreme weather events,” Peter O’Driscoll, EFI’s executive director, said in the release. “As a multi-stakeholder collaboration, EFI’s role is to support the industry to overcome these challenges through workforce engagement, in ways that bring measurable value to workers, employers, retailers and consumers alike.”

EFI’s impact on the produce industry continues to grow, EFI said in the release. “By the end of the year, it had certified 53 operations in five countries, with another 19 farms in progress. Together, those operations employ nearly 60,000 workers, and EFI’s premium program generated over $3.2 million in worker bonuses last year.”

The cornerstone of EFI’s model is the training of worker-manager “leadership teams,” providing problem-solving skills workers require to maintain their farms in compliance with the program’s rigorous labor, food safety and pest management standards, EFI said in the release. The easing of the COVID crisis allowed EFI to return to in-person, on-farm training, while also allowing grower-shippers to choose a completely virtual or hybrid training experience.

EFI facilitators completed 22 team trainings in 2022, including a pilot program for farm labor contractors and a partnership with the Regenerative Organic Alliance that applies EFI labor standards to smaller producers, such as wineries, that aim to achieve Regenerative Organic Certification, according to the release.

EFI touted its 2022 partnerships and accomplishments:

  • EFI earned recognition from the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) in September, making it the only “one-stop-shop” certification that allows growers to meet most major retail requirements for labor, food safety and integrated pest management through a single audit.
  • EFI’s integrated pest management standards were recognized as one of Walmart’s qualified programs for new pollinator health commitments.
    National Farm Safety & Health Week materials included an infographic with risk-related data and recommendations for maintaining safe work environments.
  • A toolkit created by University of Washington was shared during Sexual Harassment Awareness & Prevention Month.
  • A complete communications toolkit was provided to highlight the skilled labor and contributions of essential workers during National Farmworker Awareness Week.
  • The report, 10 Ways to Improve Recruitment of Guest Workers, According to Farmworkers, was released after EFI conducted more than 1,300 interviews with 650 guest farmworkers to understand their challenges and concerns and to highlight potential improvements to the recruitment process.

“EFI continues to offer the industry thought leadership about how the inclusion of worker voice and agency can help meet both compliance requirements and business performance goals,” EFI said in the release.

EFI launched a podcast series to highlight worker-led continuous improvement stories. Several online issue campaigns helped educate industry members about topics ranging from sexual harassment prevention to worker health and safety. EFI developed shareable tools for the entire industry to raise awareness and facilitate changes that can have measurable impacts on workers.

In 2023, EFI plans to originate additional new programs and educational resources as EFI expands to advance responsible labor practices, food safety and sustainability. Grower-shippers can access EFI’s workforce development tools and training modules at equitablefood.org/resources.

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