A Simple Lesson about the Power of Collaboration

Published date01 July 2014
Date01 July 2014
David Wang retired in 2010 as senior
operating partner of Atlas Holdings. In
1991, he retired from International Paper
Company, where he served as executive vice
president and was a member of the board
of directors. Prior to joining International
Paper, he worked for Union Carbide
Corporation in various capacities, including
director of corporate development and
vice president and general manager. He is
member of the National Advisory Council
of the School of Engineering and Applied
Sciences at George Washington University
(GWU). He received a bachelor of science in
mechanical engineering from GWU and a
master of science in mechanical engineering
from Georgia Institute of Technology. He
has been a long-time supporter of and
advisor to the Coalition of Immokalee
Workers (CIW).
E-mail: sumjohns@indiana.edu
444 Public Administration Review • July | August 2014
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 74, Iss. 4, pp. 444. © 2014 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12253.
David Wang
This is the story of a grassroots farmworker
advocacy group, which, through perseverance
and ingenuity, forged an improbable alliance
of tomato buyers, growers, and farmworkers, bringing
life-changing benef‌i ts to Florida’s tomato pickers.
e Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)
began life 20 years ago in the hardscrabble town
of Immokalee, in the heart of Florida’s growing
f‌i elds, with a mission to improve the livelihood of
Several years later, an epiphany came to the cofound-
ers of the CIW—Greg Asbed, Lucas Benitez, Laura
Germino—and several other farmworkers who have
since moved on: the power to help farmworkers
resides with the buyers and not the growers of toma-
toes, a ref‌l ection of the power of corporate purchas-
ers of many commodities. From this, the “penny per
pound” concept was born. Basically, buyers would
pay an extra $0.01 per pound for tomatoes, which
would be passed on directly to farmworkers. With the
current “bucket rate” for farmworkers at about $0.016
per pound, that “penny per pound” is a life changer
for farmworkers but not an exorbitant burden for
Over the past decade, the CIW has won over corporate
buyers, one after another. By 2013, major fast food res-
taurants, food service companies, and many supermar-
kets had signed on. Equally important, Florida’s tomato
growers also joined this partnership of buyers, growers,
and farmworkers. A key initiative of this partnership
was the establishment of the Fair Food Program, which,
besides “penny per pound,” provides standards and
audits for the fair treatment of farmworkers.
Earlier this year, Walmart Stores Inc. became a part-
ner, a landmark event given Walmart’s position in the
supermarket segment. Even more, Walmart, having
understood the CIW’s “business model,” has expressed
interest in extending this model to their other agricul-
tural purchases.
Twenty years after the CIW movement began, the
Fair Food Program is f‌i nally in place. When fully
implemented, for thousands of Florida tomato
farmworkers, “penny per pound” translates into a
life-changing 60 percent wage increase. (Although,
partly because of the seasonal nature of the work, it
only raises average annual income from $10,000 to
$16,000.  e U.S. Census Bureau reports that the
2013 poverty threshold for a two-person household
is $15,600.) Equally important, farmworkers now
truly have a constructive voice in how they are treated
in the f‌i eld. Looking toward a more distant future,
the CIW is working with Walmart on their broader
vision, which, if implemented, could af‌f ect a far
greater number of agricultural workers throughout
Over these same 20 years, the CIW’s modus oper-
andi has evolved from adversarial to collaborative.
roughout, the CIW was the grateful recipient of
two streams of encouragement, f‌i nancial support
from several foundations and church groups, and
recognition and honors from the United Nations,
U.S. Department of State, Robert F. Kennedy Center
for Human Rights, Roosevelt Institute, and Prince
Charles of the United Kingdom. But none of the
above is as rewarding as the signs of hope on the faces
of the countless tomato pickers.
While the good-faith partnership among buyers,
growers, and the CIW that created the Fair Food
Program may have been a rare occurrence in the
annals of labor relations, it presents a model that
others may follow. Walmart is far from the only cor-
poration that could improve its image and its reality
by treating workers more fairly and generously.
Direct government intervention is not the only
strategy for achieving meaningful improvements
in the lives of underpaid workers. Perhaps govern-
ment could help corporate leadership recognize the
benef‌i ts that may accrue from such collaborations
with advocacy groups. Enlightened self-interest may
do the rest.
A Simple Lesson about the Power of Collaboration

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