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Stemilt, CIERTO partnership fosters ethical migration practices for farmworkers

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March 28, 2024 WENATCHEE, Wash. – Why don’t we create an international recruitment organization to demonstrate how recruitment should be done? This is the question Joe Martinez, co-founder, and CEO of CIERTO, asked himself over 12 years ago.

CIERTO is an international farm labor contractor that assists employers with the federal H2A visa program. When it comes to the safety, health, and rights of farmworkers, Stemilt’s BB #:113654 President, West Mathison, and Martinez sat down to talk about the impact of CIERTO in improving the migration process for H2A workers coming to work for Stemilt in the U.S. from Mexico.

“CIERTO’s mission is to actively develop and sustain a professional agricultural workforce that is career oriented and committed to return to farms year after year,” says Martinez. “Before CIERTO was born in 2014, there were approximately 2.1 million workers in agriculture in the U.S. and an estimated 1.6 million of them were undocumented. Seeing these numbers made me realize the produce industry is heavily predicated on a vulnerable worker population. I needed to know, why were there so many? How did they migrate here? What was it that led to contract abandonment and displacement when they came to work on U.S. farms?”

Through his interviews, Martinez found that 98% of farmworkers had to pay a fee to come to the U.S. of hundreds or thousands of dollars. Most workers explained they had to take out loans to be able to work on the farm which left them in debt through their migration cycle.

Their jobs were not guaranteed, but for most, the opportunity to work to support their families was worth the risk. In this case, they would make just enough money to go on a H2A contract, but not enough to repay their debt. This is what led to farmworkers abandoning their contracts to continue working and sending money home. When they would lose their chance to participate in the H2A program, they chose to stay in the U.S. undocumented, moving from one farm to the next.

“This kind of system is what changes everything,” says Martinez. “In this situation, workers are no longer thinking about the job at hand, they are thinking about survival and paying off their debt. Therefore, they will say whatever they need to get paid because their focus is not on supporting the work in front of them, but on making sure they can support their family. Having a workforce like CIERTO partner with employers to improve these conditions for farmworkers is a benefit to all. Once we analyzed the realities of recruitment, we knew there was a huge lack of transparency.”

CIERTO’s attainment of ‘Leading’ Clearview certification status is a testament to their commitment to the well-being and fair treatment of workers, according to Jantine Werdmuller von Elgg, Co-CEO of Stronger Together. To help guide farmworkers coming into the U.S. on H2A visa contacts, CIERTO is dedicated to assisting employers with the program as an international farm labor contractor.

It streamlines the complex H2A visa recruiting and petition process so growers can focus on running their farm profitably and efficiently, and workers can focus on the task at hand. CIERTO customizes ag worker recruiting services for the farm’s needs, from consultation to turnkey implementation. CIERTO recruits highly qualified ag workers from Mexico and Guatemala to match the specific job requirements of each grower.

“CIERTO is reinforcing the Ethical Charter on Responsible Labor Practices that’s been endorsed by many retailers and companies within the supply chain,” says Mathison. “The Ethical Charter Implementation Program (ECIP) is a collaboration among retailers, buyers, and grower-shippers like us to recognize and strengthen engagement around labor practices in the fresh produce industry. It aims to highlight existing best-practice efforts and identify opportunities for continuous improvement. Stemilt is a first adopter of Ethical Charter focused on implementing its practices to care for our farmworkers.”

Stemilt partnered with CIERTO in 2018 during the recruiter’s first process in the U.S. to support 300 of its farmworkers. After a recent trip to Tlaxcala, Mexico, Stemilt leadership saw the recruiter’s process in person.

For each person who passes their interview, they conduct a 10-module training in their community which creates efficiency to integrate the workforce. Each module is meant to help workers understand their value in the supply chain and why they are important. That way, they come to work motivated, and ready to strive towards a plan CIERTO calls the Life Plan, or “Plan de Vida.” Plan de Vida helps farmworkers achieve the goals they have for their life and is there as a reminder that being away from their families will be worth it in the end.

“The life planning aspect of CIERTO is really powerful because it connects the work farmworkers do to break the cycle of poverty in agriculture,” says Martinez. “Stemilt has been a flagship partner of CIERTO’s model for six years now. The H2A program done right with partners and leaders like Stemilt, who have a culture and appreciation for the workforce, can help dreams become real. It was wonderful to have Stemilt leadership see their impact on farmworkers who have benefited from the partnership in Tlaxcala, Mexico. The work farmworkers do with us is not as day traders just hoping they get the same opportunity next year. They can plan their lives with CIERTO. The supply chain should recognize this. Consumers should know when they buy Stemilt produce, they are ruling out poverty in rural economic locations of Mexico and Latin America.”

Today, 100% of Stemilt’s 1,616 H2A farmworkers come through the CIERTO program and have a 95% return rate. Migration may be a farmworker’s last effort, but it can also be a means to an end to the goals they are trying to achieve with CIERTO. One farmworker was able to accomplish his goal of having his own branded clothing and textiles. Another person opened a bounce house rental business, and another fulfilled his business plan to open up multiple creperie stands.

“The biggest differentiator I saw with CIERTO is how engaged they are in preparing the workforce for being physically, mentally, and emotionally away from their families,” says Mathison. “The beautiful thing about this partnership with CIERTO is we share identical values and exist because of our farmworkers. We recognize the value of each individual and the vital role they play to help us produce fruit of World Famous qualities. We know these farmworkers are making a sacrifice in their own lives to collaborate with us, and CIERTO helps prepare them with the tools they need to feel comfortable and to be able to focus on the task at hand.”

About Stemilt
Stemilt is a family-owned grower, packer, and shipper of tree fruit. Owned and operated by the Mathison family, Stemilt’s mission is to cultivate people and delight consumers with its World Famous Fruits. Stemilt is a leader in sweet cherries and organic tree fruits, and a key supplier of apples and pears. The company stewards an environmentally sustainable and socially responsible business through its Responsible Choice® program, which has been in place since 1989. For more information about Stemilt, visit www.stemilt.com.

Contact Information:
Brianna Shales
[email protected]
Marketing Director

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