Editor's note: Until their employer agrees to negotiate fairly, farmworkers in Washington State want consumers to avoid all Driscoll's, Häagen-Dazs and Yoplait products that contain berries grown on the notorious Sakuma Brothers farm.
Farm workers in Washington state are fighting for fairer pay and better treatment, and they need support from consumers. These workers, who pick strawberries for the notorious Sakuma Brothers Berry Farm, have been subjected to a wide range of abuses for years, such as inadequate piece rates, systematic wage theft, racist and sexist abuse from supervisors, substandard housing, and continuous retaliation for their efforts to improve conditions.
The Sakuma Brothers berry farm, located in Burlington, WA, supplies strawberries to Driscoll’s, a familiar label to many consumers. Even here in faraway, still-wintry Ontario, Driscoll’s is the only brand of fresh strawberries available year-round at my local grocery store. Sakuma also sells berries to Häagen-Dazs and Yoplait.
The strawberry pickers, many of whom come from Oaxaca, Mexico, first created an independent farmworker union in 2013 called Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ). The union has been recognized by the state labor council and has even won legal victories, but Sakuma Brothers still refuses to negotiate. Instead, it has tried to dodge hiring unionized workers by applying for more migrant guest workers under the H-2A program, something that is not allowed unless an employer is experiencing a shortage of local labor supply. Sakuma Brothers will not meet with the farmworkers, spending thousands of dollars instead on PR firms and labor consultants to undermine the union.
Carmen Juarez Ventura describes what it’s like to work on the farm (via Fair World Project):
“One gains nothing here, nothing to survive. Working and working. Sometimes [the checkers] steal pounds. Sometimes rotten berries make it into the bucket. ‘Eat that one!’ they say, throwing it into your face. … You don’t make enough even to eat. I have two children, and it is very ugly here, very ugly work in the field.”
Ventura’s description doesn’t even go into the details of dangerous chemical exposure. Strawberries plants produce fruit every two days, which means that pesticide management and picking often occur right on top of each other. Civil Eats reports that “strawberry pickers are more susceptible to pesticide exposure than the average farmworker because the fields are more densely planted than other crops, meaning chemicals are being sprayed or are drifting closer to farmworkers.”