By Jordan Ross.
Recently, Whole Foods Market introduced a new labelling scheme that would apply to produce. Based on a "good", "better", "best" scale, Whole Foods would introduce new labels that would provide consumers information about the ecological and social aspects of their products.
However, based on information provided by Whole Foods, their new labelling scheme does little to protect the interests of farm workers, who are often seasonal migrant workers and are particularly prone to be exploited by our capitalist food system.
Along with requirements about benefiting the soil and water conservation, the "better" and "best" labels includes ideas about "Farmworker health and safety". While we can all agree that protecting the health and safety of workers should be prioritized in how we grow our foods, the fact that that is the only farmworker requirement of Whole Foods' new labelling scheme should set off some red flags if you are interested in the ethics of how our food is produced.
Migrant workers provide a lot of workforce on fruit and vegetable farms; however, because of their legal status they are often in a position to be exploited for their labor. While I'm glad that Whole Foods is ensuring their safety during their work, the fact that Whole Foods' new labelling scheme does not promote more socially-just labor relations indicates that their labelling scheme does not actually seek to provide enough meaningful information to their customers or benefit to those who grow the food they sell.
This is assuming that Whole Foods' customers care about labor relations of migrant farmworkers. Maybe they are indifferent, but the fact that Whole Foods thinks it's important to care for the well-beling of farm laborers only brings into question their lack of requirements when it comes to labor relations. Why in their "good", "better", "best" scheme do requirements of fair labor go unexamined?
The fact is that our capitalist food system cannot succeed without the exploited labor, and often it is the labor of marginalized people. For Whole Foods to seek to rectify this would be for them to attempt to correct systems that benefit them. The fact that Whole Foods does not seek to examine labor relations is only a product of the capitalist system they operate in that maximizes profits over social justice. Even though they express a concern for the health of farm workers, their ultimate in-inclusion of farm worker wages in their labelling schemes does a disservice to those they rely on. Whole Foods is not trying to create a more sustainable or socially just food system, they are instead marketing themselves as the environmentally and socially just food retailer, even when their in-house labelling schemes fall short of actualizing their goals.