Trust, Transparency & Collaboration Key for Agriculture Recruiters 

Last week CIERTO’s COO Carolyn Fairman had the privilege of participating in “Insights from the Field,” a panel discussion at the 2022 Global Forum for Responsible Recruiting (GFRR). The goal of the panel was to present an overview of the different models of responsible agriculture recruitment from around the world.

Hosted by the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB), the International Labor Organization (ILO), and the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), the GFRR is an annual, three day event bringing together businesses, activists, experts and advocates from around the world to discuss challenges, opportunities, and lessons learned regarding the advancement of fair, ethical, and responsible recruitment.

“Insights from the Field: Comparing Recruitment and Employment Models in Agriculture,” was moderated by Rupal Patel and along with Carolyn, featured Pepsico’s Jaren Dunning, Gillian Haythornthwaite from nGaje and Evan Cupido of Stronger Together, all of whom had valuable insights gleaned from their extensive and unique perspectives and experiences.

CIERTO Chief Operations Officer Carolyn Fariman

Importance of Relationship Building for Successful, Clean Agriculture Recruitment

The big takeaway from Carolyn’s segment is the realization that more than any other factor, trusting, transparent relationships are the key to making the H-2A program (the US’ recruitment and employment program for agricultural guest workers) successful. 

She related CIERTO’s work with growers to make sure we share an expansive definition of success that includes making the H-2A program profitable for growers, while looking out for the interests of retailers, and protecting the rights of our guestworkers. 

“Our goal is to facilitate a relationship between the grower or client and their workers which allows them to have more oversight of their H-2A program. We base our model on the concepts of trust, transparency and collaboration.”

As you can imagine, this can be a heavy lift if everyone isn’t cooperating.

According to Fairman, one of the ways CIERTO creates these partnerships is by maintaining a strong presence in the workers’ communities of origin, and working with community leaders there directly, ie with no subcontractors

By going into communities of origin ourselves, CIERTO helps to ensure that growers or employers of record in the US have clear sightlines into how their workers are getting to the border or the consulate. This also surfaces the true cost of agriculture recruitment, and it can short circuit the fraud that happens during the workers’ journeys from their homes to the border. 

Workers on the bus to their new jobs in the United States.

The community-of-origin-to-border pipeline is typically not well monitored or understood by private sector actors on the other end of the equation, and the commodity pricing they see doesn’t reflect the true cost of recruitment. That’s because this part of the process is opaque and the workers are often forced to shoulder big chunks of the recruiting costs themselves. 

Carolyn clarifies: “the FLC may still be making their money; they’re just not having to charge their grower or employer [the full amount]. And that allows people to think that some agriculture recruiters may be more cost-effective or cheaper than others, but it doesn’t take into account that the workers are charged in the form of invisible fees. 

So they might have to pay the agriculture recruiters to ensure that they’re chosen for the job, that they get a literal seat on the bus. They might have to pay for their transportation, their food to get to the consulate, sometimes the driver might say ‘hey, sometimes contracts don’t work out. If you give me x amount of money, I’ll make sure you have a seat on the bus to get home again.’”

Gender Discrimination Touches Every Point in the Agriculture Recruitment Supply Chain

Fairman next touched on the role that gender discrimination plays. 

Women are generally underhired, women’s housing is an issue, there are few women in leadership positions, [and few] opportunities for growth. And gender stereotypes really do drive all of these individual issues. 

And now people are just starting to recognize… gender fluidity and the difficulty of providing housing for those folks, and this conversation isn’t really even happening yet.

Carolyn points out that all of these issues are addressed by the CIERTO model. 

“To start with, there’s an extensive training process we go through with the workers we recruit. We go to where the workers are from and recruit them through third party organizations that introduce us to those communities, and we provide an extensive training on what is their contract, where are they going… what can they expect.

We also work closely with the US and Mexican governments, and that allows an extra level of transparency.”

She points out that CIERTO is one of only 6 registered agriculture recruitment agencies in Mexico, and that we work with a 3rd party verification agency that further ensures the transparency of the process, helping to eliminate fraud, and build trust and professionalism among the workers.

The other panelists shared important and fascinating insights as well, and if you have even a passing interest in the topic (as you should – after all, everyone eats), listen to the whole thing.

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