Fair trader Michela Calabrese told www.freshfruitportal.com immigration regulation in the country had been catapulted into the forefront of consumers' minds recently, and its relationship with agriculture was becoming ever clearer.
"Immigration has been on the table a lot, and the connection between illegal immigration and that fact that the majority of farm laborers are illegal immigrants has not been so clear in the news," Calabrese said.
"Up until a couple of years ago, the discussions of illegal immigration were not as pronounced as they are now. It's a major topic now.
"A lot of the states that are really cracking down on [illegal immigrants] are the ones finding they don't really have the labor pool to invest."
Last week, President Obama addressed tha nation announcing a series of executive actions including one to defer the deportation of more than four million undocumented immigrants.
"By putting labor in the forefront we are finally addressing labor issues that are happening in agriculture," Calabrese said.
She said California's passing in September of law AB 1897, that would hold companies liable for labor abuses by third-party contractors, was another important development in how attitudes toward farmworkers were changing.
Western Growers President and CEO Tom Nassif previously criticized the bill, saying it would "unfairly impose significant liability onto an innocent third-party employer for violations of wage and other obligations of a labor contractor even though the third-party employer does not control the contractor".
Growing awareness a 'unique opportunity' for retailers
Argentine-founded Interrupcion specializes in tropical fruit, but sources a variety of organic and conventionally grown fair trade crops from Latin American and the U.S.
It is currently working on obtaining a year-round supply for all the crops it works with.
Calabrese said demand for fair trade produce in the U.S. was 'tremendous', as consumers learned an increasing amount about the consequences of things like heavy chemical spraying on communities living near monocrop farms.
Interrupcion was the also first company to establish a fair trade blueberry program, which it has been running for around seven years.
It now sources the fruit from Chile and Argentina for seven months a year, along with smaller U.S. volumes, but Calabrese said the organization initially had to 'push from a supply perspective'.
"There wasn't necessarily demand per se for a fair trade blueberry, but overall the demand is growing for customers wanting to know how their products got there, where their products came from, how they were made, who picked them and what the impact was on the community," she said.
"These are questions that are part of our daily discourse."
While Calabrese said she wouldn't necessarily bet on the words 'fair trade' or 'sustainable' in the future, she was confident the trend of consumers wanting to know where their food came from would continue.
"They want transparency from companies and they want to be educated about the farms that produce their food," she said.
"It's a really unique opportunity for grocery stores - to play that education and transparency role in the market place - and I think the retailers that succeed in being able to tell the story at retail are going to be the retailers of the future.
"Customers find a lot more trust, safety and confidence in purchasing products when they know the source."