Judith Méndez is a Public Accountant with over 20 years of experience in the Agri-Food Sector. She is currently the General Manager at Promotora Agrícola El Toro, a company with significant presence in the Northern area of the Mexicali, B.C. valley, where she has developed the social responsibility programs in order to carry out actions in benefit of their workers and rural communities in the area.

She was the CEO at Consejo Agropecuario de Baja California (CABC) where she is currently the coordinator of the Social Welfare Committee and she is also the CEO at AHIFORES (International Horticultural Alliance for Promoting Social Responsibility) where she collaborates in the outreach and awareness of the sector to continuously improve labor and social processes, and thus ensure the welfare of workers and their families.

She is also the CEO at Fundación Agrícola El Toro, a foundation focused in raising the life quality from field workers and their communities, mostly in the area of influence of the company operation.

1. What has been the greatest teaching of running a farming organization such as the Agricultural Council of Baja California?

Representing the interests of the agricultural sector in my area was a great experience to me, as we were permanently involved in sector management by raising problems and alternative solutions to promote the development of our Valley by the representativeness provided by joint efforts.

2. How important would you consider is social responsibility in farming companies?

Social responsibility involves a culture with awareness, it is a form, even a philosophy of doing business, which must, therefore; be immersed in company operations, and in doing so contributes to its financial, social, and operational sustainability.

At AHIFORES we believe social responsibility is the respect that farming companies must have for the rights of workers and their families, and therefore; the contribution they should make to the development of our society.

By implementing social responsibility actions from companies, it not only makes them more productive, but also places them in better market opportunities. They improve the community environment where their workers live and work, and with such they generate a virtuous cycle of development; benefiting companies, the people collaborating in them, and the community.

3. Do you consider market trends will increasingly focus on companies having certifications in terms of social responsibility?

In the last few years the agriculture sector has been facing a change of model, where what and how much it is produced is no longer important, but also how. Market demands are responding to a demand from consumers, who are increasingly aware of what they are buying.  

Trends are aiming at the demand of agriculture commodities from companies that, in addition to complying with food safety issues, they also comply with labor, social, and environment welfare standards.

Many domestic and foreign buyers are increasingly requiring their suppliers to comply with certifications that demonstrate compliance with high standards of positive social impact.

Additionally, the end consumer has a more ethical and responsible attitude when purchasing a product, as he not only reviews the nutritional content to care for his health, but he also seeks for it to have been produced under environmental protection and human rights regulations.

4. What is the International Horticultural Alliance for Promoting Social Responsibility (Alianza Hortofrutícola Internacional para el Fomento de la Responsabilidad Social in Spanish; AHIFORES) and since when did you take office?

AHIFORES is an initiative born in 2015 from the private sector, which main purpose is consolidating efforts in order to generate actions that seek for alternatives and solutions in social and labor issues of the horticultural industry.

It is an initiative which makes its way into consolidating good social responsibility practices with Mexican field workers; as the human factor is an essential element for the development of our sector where, in spite of the progress in technification, labor remains an element of great importance in the productive chain.

I am honored to chair the Alliance since 2018, where we have focused on generating a robust relationship with a variety of domestic and foreign organizations, as well as entities from the three government levels, non-governmental players, commercial chains, workers and their representatives, academia, and other stakeholders linked to the horticultural sector, in order to develop strategies and actions to generate development and both social and economic competitiveness into the sector.

5. What is the strategy followed by AHIFORES to promote Social Responsibility in Mexico?

To carry out a process of dialogue and open collaboration with the various players of the productive chain, in order to raise an awareness of improvement in both social and working conditions of field workers, both local and migrant, by creating social responsibility standards as measurement tools aligned with domestic and foreign legislation, as well as following market trends.   

AHIFORES has strategic alliances with the International Labor Organization (ILO), Comisión Nacional para los Derechos Humanos (National Committee for Human Rights in Spanish; CNDH), and Organización Internacional para las Migraciones (International Migration Organization in Spanish; OIM) for reinforcement and technical cooperation in the design and implementation of actions to improve the framework of equitable hiring, as well as implementing strategies and policies in terms of migration.

AHIFORES is conducting trainings and international forums in the following priority areas:

Employment: Decent work, fair hiring, salary, employment of young people and vulnerable population, elimination of child labor, discrimination, sexual harassment, as well as providing training and social orientation.

Health and Housing: Infrastructure for health services and childcare facilities, access to decent housing and shelters, diseases, and work health.

Migration and Hiring: Reducing vulnerability by protecting human rights of the worker in the various stages of the migratory path and in hiring.

We are interested in creating a culture of responsibility in companies; giving growers the tools for them to insert within the DNA of their processes a social responsibility policy. Also, helping companies to generate a culture that positively impacts the life of their employees and improves their working conditions, which results in a greater productivity in their operations.

6. What is the Responsible Farming Company Recognition (DEAR, in Spanish) and how can companies achieve it?

The Responsible Farming Company Recognition (DEAR, in Spanish) is a tool designed so that growers assess their compliance level within the scope of Social Responsibility, adhering to the provisions of the current Mexican legislation and the relevant binding international instruments.

Companies that are already having a certain implementation level of good social responsibility practices in their operations may obtain it; this is evaluated by an audit carried out by a third party certification body accredited to the Mexican Accreditation Entity (EMA, in Spanish).  

For those companies wishing to be accompanied while implementing their social responsibility policy and processes, we have a Technical Assistance program, by which a diagnosis, the accompaniment, and counseling in implementation, in order to reinforce the company in these areas.

We are currently developing the 2.0 version, that will change its name to Certification of Responsible Farming Company (CEAR, in Spanish), with an approach that allows horticultural companies to implement a Social Responsibility Management System, which leads to compliance with labor and social rights of workers while taking care of the environment as well.

This new version will be validated with the criteria of the Code of Ethics for Labor Responsibility Practices (Ethical Charter) and with changes in the current legislation on labor matters.

7. Could you share a little about AHIFORES International Forum?

Since 2017, AHIFORES has been developing one of the most important meetings in Mexico, in terms of labor and social welfare in the horticultural sector. The AHIFORES International Forum has been bringing together for the last 3 years growers, workers, unions, buyers, marketers, authorities of the different government levels, non-governmental organizations, certifying entities, professors, students, and all of those stakeholders in Labor and Social Welfare of the horticultural sector, both domestic and foreign.

Within the purposes of this meeting, the aim is to promote the relationship and dialogue between the various players of the production chain in terms of labor and social welfare, learning about their experience and good practices, as well as understanding the challenges and opportunities in these subjects, in order to develop strategies and actions.

Our previous forums have been Mexico City in 2017; Guadalajara in 2018; and León in 2019.

Our upcoming forum will be held on June 4-5, 2020 in Mexico City, where the involvement of high-level speakers is expected, as well as a very interesting program which, without a doubt, will respond to many concerns of the players involved in the sector.

8. How have companies and workers of the horticultural industry who work with AHIFORES benefited?

Activities of AHIFORES are designed to provide growers with tools, so that they develop a social responsibility policy and processes which directly the labor and social welfare of their employees. With these actions, workers get a decent employment option, decreasing their need to migrate abroad and they can improve their well-being and their families’, as well as generating development in their communities.

In the case of companies, clients and consumers recognize the good practices they implement, and with such they get the opportunity to access more and better markets, where social responsibility is recognized as an added value. In general, the sector is benefited indirectly, and also all of those who are bound to it, positioning it as a labor and social welfare leader and an example of their workers.

We have seen cases of companies implementing the social responsibility actions and standards being promoted by AHIFORES, having significant improvements in the return rate of their workers, a reduction in rotation, a decrease of investment in training, as well as an increase in efficiency and productivity.

9. What are the main success stories you could share with us from companies working with the alliance?

One of the main activities which has produced success stories, and the possibility of close alliance and association among growers are our tours of good practices. In these activities, growers open their doors to show programs, actions, and strategies being developed in their companies. Participants get the opportunity to share doubts and learn from each other returning to their companies to apply what they have learned.

By this activity, a close bond has been generated between companies and a circle of trust to resolve doubts, raise solutions, and generating substantial changes for the benefit of those who collaborate in the production chain. There is no better way for companies to develop, than the example of others that have already gone through the same processes and challenges, which have found solutions. It has been very frequent for us that what a company brings as a problem, another company has already resolved it, and that generates a very important cycle of knowledge, trust, and connection.

 10. What projects is the AHIFORES currently working on?

We have a very busy working and bonding plan for the upcoming months. Of course, we will continue with our good practices tours and training in the various states of the country.

Launching version 2.0 of our CEAR certification, integrating an entire management system for the grower and technical support which leads to comply with the labor and social standards of our sector.

We continue reinforcing our alliances with other players; in December this year, publishing the toolkit for equitable hiring will be released, in collaboration with ILO and Verité, the latter as a consulting agency. Also, we are defining a training plan with the National Committee for Human Rights (Comisión Nacional para los Derechos Humanos in Spanish; CNDH) on the issue of labor trafficking.

With the International Migration Organization (Organización Internacional para las Migraciones in Spanish; OIM) of the United Nations, we will be promoting training among growers who wish to learn the process of migrant labor integration. Finally, to a government level, we are working together with the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS, in Spanish) on a public policy proposal to address the subject of social security in the field, considering its particularities, and access to health for workers.