Finding enough workers can be a challenge in the greenhouse industry, but also the working conditions for agricultural employees are often the talk of the town. NatureSweet has been working for 30 years to transform the lives of agricultural workers in North America. The company is driven by the conviction that doing the right thing and building a business model grounded on treating people with dignity is not in conflict but the reason for its success.
As such, the company is committed to transforming an industry that has not historically always placed its workers at the center or treated them as the most precious driver for success. An example of this is how NatureSweet has created income sustainability for its workers in Mexico by paying them more than double the minimum wage.
“Our associates earn almost 40% above the median wage of agricultural workers in Mexico and approximately 25% above the median wage of our main competitors. NatureSweet agricultural workers also have the opportunity to earn up to 300% in bonus compensation,” says Lori Castillo, Vice President of Global Marketing for NatureSweet.
To further fulfill its mission to treat workers right, NatureSweet has reduced illiteracy rates within the company by providing educational programming so that workers can learn how to read and write and earn their elementary, middle, and high school diplomas. "By the end of 2023, over 2,000 employees will have benefitted from the program. We've recently piloted a bachelor's degree program in which 30 employees will have the opportunity to earn their college degrees in agriculture", he says.
Also, they supported an employee-run fund (known as the Fair Trade Premium) that generates millions of dollars annually and supports community development initiatives such as improved education, access to quality health services, accommodations, development projects, and other basic services such as dental cleanings and services. "Prior to the program, 70% of associates had not received dental care. The program provided associates access to care from dental hygienists and dentists, leading to over 600 associates receiving dental care. The program also includes vouchers that allow family members to access dental care in their local community."
Then there's nutrition counseling and healthy food. "Dietitians provide nutritional counseling and monthly meal plans in line with healthy eating recommendations. The fund also led to the creation of a food pantry stocked with nutritious food options that associates can easily access." Also, eye care is a focus point. "40% of associates and their family members suffered from visual problems and were not able to access eye care due to its high cost. Thanks to the program, associates receive eye exams and glasses free of charge."
The company also says that investing in mental health is imporant, by providing psychologists at each facility who offer 1-on-1 therapy sessions. "We also have several months-long programs that teach self-improvement topics that range from human development to parenting, communication, and problem-solving."
NatureSweet's programs have been so successful that the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) highlighted the company in a Sustainability Case Study. It's also been a hit with employees: NatureSweet has a monthly turnover rate of just 1%.
Investing in people is investing in business
"We are investing money in our people, and they take great pride in caring for our produce. There's a misconception in the industry. It's not 'How can we be profitable if we do this,' it's 'We are profitable because we do this.' That's our business model, and there's no conflict. Because we pay more and offer better incentives, we have the best people in the industry. Because we have the best people in the industry, we have the best product in the industry and a superior brand. Our Associates know what they're supposed to be doing in terms of quality, safety, and just knowing our product," says Rodolfo Spielmann, President & CEO of NatureSweet.
In 2023, NatureSweet became the largest Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) company in the world to earn B Corporation™ Certification (B Corp). This certificate entails that the company is being recognized for meeting rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Specifically - Fair compensation for all Associates, safe working conditions that include proper training regardless of level, transparent communication, community engagement (NS invests in local communities where we operate since we are not migratory in nature), etc.
"By tackling labor issues in a comprehensive manner, we demonstrate our commitment to the well-being of our employees, environment, and broader commitment."
The Story of Magaly Alfaro Avalos
But talking about numbers and intentions only does so much. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, after all, so what do the employees have to say about it?
For NatureSweet Greenhouse Harvester Magaly Alfaro Avalos, the work and benefits allowed her to buy a home, work throughout three pregnancies (including three 82-day maternity leaves), and provide her an opportunity to earn her bachelor's degree in agriculture (fully funded by the company).
According to the mom of three, Avalos' family and community are counting on her, and having this job, which prioritizes her health and well-being, pays her a fair wage, and values her skill and intellect, allows her to not only provide for them but thrive.
"I wouldn't have been able to create the life I have achieved without the support, compensation, and opportunities that I received at NatureSweet," said Avalos. "This job changed my life for the better and my family's."
"After completing her bachelor’s degree in 2027, Avalos aspires to continue to grow within the company and take on supervisory roles,” adds Castillo. “But truly, Avalos’ story is but one example of what happens when companies invest in their people, and we’re very proud of our achievements so far and will continue to invest in our employees.”
For more information: