Food Chains, a documentary that examines the plight of farm laborers in the U.S., releases to the American public on Friday. CNN asked its director, Sanjay Rawal, about the movie and how it came to be made.
CNN: How did you come to learn about this issue, and why did you decide a film needed to be made?
Rawal: This film represents the intersection of three parts of my life. I moved to New York City to pursue truth (studying with an Indian mystic); I spent the last 15 years as a human rights consultant; and I was born into an agricultural family. Food Chains, for me, is the pursuit of justice in our Food Chains with an eye to expanding people’s hearts as to the contributions of the millions of workers that make our meals possible.
CNN: What was the most surprising thing you found while making this movie?
Rawal: We look at supermarkets as benign, neighborly institutions when they’re anything but. The supermarket industry is as large as tech. And the companies within the grocery sector are bigger. Walmart’s grocery division alone made almost twice as much gross revenue than Apple.
CNN: Does anything you see offer hope that conditions are improving?
Rawal: Modern-day slavery, sexual harassment, wage theft - these are realities within farm labor but no longer in the Florida tomato industry. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, together with Florida tomato farmers, has transformed what was known as ground zero for modern-day slavery in the U.S., into the most progressive sector of American agriculture.
CNN: Did you encounter any resistance as you made this film?
Rawal: We have encountered stiff resistance from the supermarket industry. Farmers have been very appreciative because they suffer daily under the massive pressure supermarkets place on them. Grocery is an industry that’s frankly out of control.
CNN: How has the film been received?
Rawal: We’ve had a stellar reaction from chefs, foodies and farmworkers. I think it’s clear from the film how we’re all connected to one another through the food system.
CNN: What do you hope this film will accomplish?
Rawal: We need major corporations like supermarkets and fast food chains to adopt the few farmworker rights programs out there. The CIW’s Fair Food Program is one.
CNN: How do you expect people to react to this documentary?
Rawal: I think people will be shocked by the footage we have (shot by the amazing Forest Woodward), but they’ll also feel hopeful, that there is a solution to the exploitation of workers.
CNN: You weren’t scared to go after some very large corporations and industry associations. Why did you think it was important to name names and direct some of the tension in the documentary towards particular organizations?
Rawal: We’ve seen the horrendous mushrooming of corporate influence in this country, effectively neutering legislators who are beholden these sources of campaign dollars. If legislators won’t fight for our food system, we have to - by attacking the companies atop the food chain.
CNN: Who funded the movie and why?
Rawal: We received support from a number of brave foundations including Bertha, Fledgling, Humanity United, 11th Hour, and Public Welfare. They all understand that corporate influence on our food system must be addressed and that human rights should apply to those who bring us our food.
CNN: What can people do to make a difference to the conditions of farm laborers?
Rawal: We need to support worker-driven movements. No one can guarantee the true sourcing of a product more than a worker. We need to support worker organizations and programs like the Fair Food Program that can guarantee the rights and wages of those who pick our food.
CNN: Will this movie be posted online and will it be released outside the U.S.
Rawal: We’re available on iTunes now and will be in theaters internationally in 2015. We will also be on Netflix in 2015 too.