Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) is celebrating a year of progress in 2023 toward its mission to offer a full suite of supply chain assurance programs to the fresh produce industry.
The group celebrated a new program launch, grew its staff and streamlined certification to make it more cost effective for growers starting in 2024.
EFI brought together leading industry buyers and suppliers to launch the Ethical Charter Implementation Program (ECIP), following a four-year process of planning, piloting and beta testing. The program provides a framework for the fresh produce industry to align with the Ethical Charter on Responsible Labor Practices without the burden of additional audits.
An advisory group oversaw ECIP development and invited hundreds of suppliers and growers to the online ECIP LAB (Learn, Assess and Benchmark) self-assessment platform in November.
“We’ve gathered a dedicated group of innovative problem solvers from throughout the industry, representing both buyers and suppliers, to help create and implement a scalable solution that helps growers assess their labor management systems and improve over time,” said Peter O’Driscoll, executive director for EFI.
In partnership with The Sustainability Consortium, the ECIP Marketplace also launched in 2023, connecting growers and suppliers with expert service providers who can give support in addressing key challenges identified during self-assessments.
“The ECIP Marketplace is a pivotal component of the Ethical Charter Implementation Project and a needed step toward helping ECIP LAB users address the challenges that surface in self-assessments,” said Christy Slay, CEO of The Sustainability Consortium. “In this marketplace, users can find not just solutions but a shared commitment to ethical and responsible practices as we work toward a more sustainable future.”
EFI’s reach saw continued growth in 2023, certifying produce facilities in the United States, Mexico, Canada and Peru. The year concluded with the first certified operations from two new suppliers, Fruit World and Veg-Fresh Farms.
Long considered the gold standard for social responsibility, the EFI certification helps growers meet industry sourcing requirements while driving improved business performance. EFI has trained more than 4,000 people in communications and problem-solving skills, helping to improve the working conditions of 60,000 workers who have generated 942 million pounds of produce representing 46 commodities on EFI-certified farms.
Of the positive shift Veg-Fresh Farms has experienced, Jasmin Amigon, food safety and social responsibility coordinator, noted, “We meet every month for about an hour and listen to what workers need. It has changed our culture and continues to improve our operations.”
Bianca Kaprielian, CEO of Fruit World, also highlighted the benefits EFI certification has brought her operation. “Receiving EFI certification made us a stronger team by bringing perspectives from all parts of the business together – from harvesting to packing and marketing.”
This fall, EFI celebrated the milestone of generating more than $18 million in worker bonuses since the program’s inception. The bonus is meant to both incentivize workers and reward the extra diligence required to maintain EFI certification standards. It has been one element in helping EFI-certified farms experience lower-than-average worker turnover.
“The industry continues to suffer the effects of a labor shortage caused by market and political pressures, and the average farmworker’s age is rising,” O’Driscoll said. “Cultivating a positive culture where hard work pays off is a great tool to help grower-shippers become employers of choice in a tight labor market.”
EFI welcomed three new employees in 2023 to support growth, EFI certification and ECIP. Joining the organization this year were Adriana Martinez as director of certification programs, Gabriela Lopez-Barry as the Ethical Charter Implementation Program manager and Alexandra Martinez as marketing and sales associate.
As 2023 wraps up, EFI staff is readying to roll out changes to its certification offerings early in the new year, providing growers with a more cost-effective way to manage their audits and reduce the audit burden, something EFI has been focused on since its founding.
“I’m incredibly proud of our multistakeholder board and dedicated staff and am excited to bring more industrywide solutions to the table in 2024,” O’Driscoll said.
Equitable Food Initiative is a capacity-building and certification nonprofit that works to improve the lives of farmworkers and drive business performance by integrating worker voice and engagement throughout the supply chain. As a multistakeholder organization, EFI brings together growers, farmworkers, retailers and consumers to create assessment, training and organizational development programs that support continuous improvement and address the industry’s most pressing problems. For more information about Equitable Food Initiative, visit equitablefood.org.
Read more produce news at The Shelby Report.