University of Virginia (United States)


Farm labor is precarious work, reflecting both the vulnerabilities of migrant farmworkers and the nature of farms as workplaces. Public regulators rarely enforce labor standards on farms, and labor unions are uncommon. Covid-19 exacerbates these risks because farmworkers labor, and often live, in conditions that make social distancing difficult. Our proposed research asks how migrant farmworkers are affected by Covid-19, how farmers are mitigating these risks, and what role farmworker organizations play in protecting workers. In order to collect information from workers about their experiences, as well as the perspectives of farm owners and farm labor advocates and experts, we propose a mixed-methods research design that combines a worker survey (delivered by text) and interviews and focus groups (conducted virtually) with industry actors. The survey component of our research is based on access to workers that would be facilitated by a farmworker organization, the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has created a rights-based monitoring initiative, the Fair Food Program, which is active on farms along the Eastern Seaboard. Previous research on the Fair Food Program and similar supply chain labor initiatives suggests that they improve conditions for vulnerable workers, in part by facilitating communication and transparency along the supply chain. Our project would be the first to study this model of private labor regulation in the context of a public health crisis, while also assessing the effect of Covid-19 on migrant farmworkers and the work process on farms more broadly.

Principal Investigator

Jennifer Bair

Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia

Jennifer Bair is professor of sociology at the University of Virginia. She earned her PhD in sociology from Duke University and her MA in international studies from Johns Hopkins University. Her research interests are at the intersection of global political economy, work, and development. She is the editor of four books, including Frontiers of Commodity Chains Research (Stanford, 2009), and the author of many journal articles, including publications in World Development, Social Problems, Economy and Society, and Signs. She has conducted extensive research on global value chains, development, and labor in Latin America, and more recently, South Asia. In addition to a collaborative book project on labor strategies in global supply chains, she is currently studying efforts to improve human rights protections for migrant workers in US agriculture. She has spoken at the United Nations, the European Parliament, the International Labor Office, and the Coll├Ęge de France about global supply chains and labor standards in developing countries. She is an editor of the Review of International Political Economy and Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, and has served as chair of the Sociology of Development Section and the Section on Political Economy of the World-System of the American Sociological Association.