Mr. Benitez is a co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). The CIW is a grassroots, membership-led organization of migrant agricultural workers based in Florida that seeks justice for a range of human rights abuses and promotes the fair treatment of workers in accordance with international labor standards. Its membership consists of over 4,000 workers, who are largely Latino, Haitian, and Mayan Indian immigrants.
Mr. Benitez has been called “one of the most visible farmworker leaders in the U.S.” (Los Angeles Times), and “the Cesar Chavez of the new millennium” (El Diario, New York). He has won numerous national and international awards for his exemplary leadership, including: the Rolling Stone Magazine “Brick” Award for “America’s Best Young Community Leader”; the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award; and, along with two co-workers, the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, for innovative work in combating modern-day slavery.
As remarkable as these achievements are, they are all the more remarkable given Mr. Benitez’ background. He came from a poor family of Mexican farmworkers, and he worked for over 9 years throughout the Southeastern United States from Florida to North Carolina harvesting tomatoes, oranges, and other crops. The abuses that he witnessed and experienced as a farmworker led him to begin participating in organizing efforts in Immokalee. The CIW began as a small group of workers who met after work to reflect upon the extreme poverty and brutal mistreatment that the workers suffered. In those early years, Mr. Benitez was one of the community leaders of actions focused in Immokalee, including 3 community-wide work stoppages, a 30-day hunger strike, a campaign against violence in the fields, and a 230-mile march across the state of Florida.
Mr. Benitez has also been central to the CIW’s Anti-Slavery Campaign, uncovering and investigating multi-worker, multi-state forced labor operations, and assisting federal authorities in prosecutions such as US vs. Cuello, US vs. Ramos, and others. In the course of such work, Mr. Benitez helped workers to escape from a labor camp where they were being held against their will, located key witnesses, and helped victims recovering from slavery.
Today, Mr. Benitez has become a leading voice for what is now a national movement, the CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food. An alliance of workers and consumers, the Campaign calls on corporate buyers of produce to take part in ending labor abuses in their supply chains.