Seldom are labor conflicts settled at the breakfast table, but the lives and welfare of many workers depend on the grapes we choose or do not choose to eat. Harvard's decision to serve grapes again in undergraduate dining halls in spite of the United Farm Workers (UFW) boycott is important.
Injustices surrounding the grape boycott do not just concern poor working conditions, but also the violation of basic human rights. We urge students to take a stand against these violations and vote no to grapes on November 21.
The United Farm Workers first initiated a grape boycott in 1965, and it was supported by such luminaries as Robert Kennedy.
The boycott that is effective today, however, the international table grape boycott, was issued by the UFW in 1984 to continue to fight for humane working conditions. But little has changed since the first and second boycot. Nearly one-third of the workforce is under 16 years old, and many of these workers paid less than minimum wage. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the average income of a farm worker's family is less than $5,000 a year. Farmworkers are seldom supplied with toilets or even drinking water while working.
The greatest threat to farmworkers, however, is the use of harmful pesticides on grapes. Table grapes use such cosmetic pesticides such as Captan, Methyl Bromide, and Parathion because of the grapes thin and fragile skin. According to a report by the U.S. General Accounting office, many of these pesticides cannot be washed off and one-third of them are considered carcinogenic. The EPA reports that 300,000 farmworkers every year receive pesticide poisoning.
Pesticides also pose a potential threat to consumers. FDA testing methods detect less than half of the 75 types of pesticides used on grapes, and both independent and government testing has shown that even with these inaccurate methods, 20 to 50 percent of all grapes have pesticide residues. The National Academy of Sciences list grapes as one of 15 dangerous foods, especially for small children.
If we cherish human rights, we must address the gross injustices farmworkers face on a daily basis. No one should be forced to be exposed to toxic chemicals. No one should be forced to accept intolerable and inhumane working conditions. No one should be kept silent by fear to accept a life that causes pain, loss and death. We as an institution cannot let apathy set in. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. Vote to keep grapes off our tables. --Sergio Campos '00, Roel Saldivar '01, RAZA