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Hollywood Commission Partners With CIW To Combat Sex Abuse

Shane Donglasan
Fair Food Program
An organizer talks with an agriculture worker.

A local workers' rights group is being tapped by a Hollywood organization co-founded by Anita Hill to help with programs aimed at ending workplace sexual abuse.

The group, known as the Hollywood Commission, was co-founded by lawyer and professorAnita Hill, who brought the concept of workplace sexual harassment into the daily lexicon. The Hollywood Commission has partnered with giants such as Netflix, Amazon, Paramount, and Disney. In its latest effort to help smaller production companies, the group is partnering with theCoalition of Immokalee Workers’(CIW) Fair Food Program.

In 2011, the CIW created its Fair Food Program, which addresses the abuse farmworkers come up against in the fields.

Since then, the program has helped transform working conditions for more than 35,000 workers across seven states, while working toward eliminating sexual violence, wage theft, forced labor and discrimination.

Judge Laura Safer Espinoza is the Executive Director of the Fair Food Standards Council, the independent monitoring body that oversees and enforces the Fair Food Program.

“So, you might well think, what do those who work in Hollywood and farmworkers who labor in the fields have in common? And while it is true of course, it is true that each sector is unique,” Espinoza said. “There are several parallels between what we've seen in agriculture and what's happening in Hollywood.”

Mainly, powerless people working for people who have exponentially more power than they do.

“Fundamentally, there are widespread problems of harassment and abuse with nowhere to turn, fear of retaliation and ingrained power imbalances that have perpetuated those problems over decades,” Espinoza said.

”When the Me Too movement hit the headlines in 2017 or thereabouts, the coalition and the Fair Food Program team had been working in the field of anti-sexual violence for years, and had already made great progress in uprooting what had been endemic sexual harassment and violence in the fields. The Hollywood commission initially reached out in 2019 to hear more about our work. We are so happy to be joining with them in this really significant step toward building a solution for sexual harassment, discrimination and other kinds of abuse in the entertainment industry.”

The Fair Food Program model aims to change power dynamics and incentives that lead to abuse.

Judge Espinoza said they’ve begun identifying dynamics that will help promote a culture of fairness and accountability, a process that is still in its early stages.

“The initial conversations and work together have been very promising. The Fair Food Program faced enormous resistance when we launched the program over a decade ago because abuse was just par for the course in agriculture and really had been for centuries,” Espinoza said. “And what helped us crack this open was a persistence and an understanding of where the levers of power rested.”

She added that Hollywood has an initial advantage, given the investment of so many and the popular appetite for finding a solution.

Espinoza said there are unseen parallels between the young Hollywood dreamer stepping onto a soundstage and a young immigrant laborer walking onto a tomato field.

They really need that job, or want that job, and they move where the jobs are—creating an ever-shifting power dynamic in which they never have it but every new boss has all of it.

Malia Arrington is the Executive Director with the Hollywood Commission. She said because smaller production companies may not have robust human resource budgets, an external program that works for small farms could work on small production lots and in small independent studios.

”We know the power dynamics are incredibly skewed in the entertainment industry and as to your point, in the tomato fields, and I think there are some other interesting parallels including that, you know, our worker population, the entertainment worker population is also pretty itinerant,” Arrington said.

“A lot of the individuals who work in the industry work freelance basically, and they move from production to production to production, and they may or may not have adequate protections depending on where they are working.”

The main goal, she said, is to bring lessons from the Fair Food Program’s success in protecting human rights of the most vulnerable workers to other unique workplace situations, such as the entertainment industry.

“The Hollywood Commission decided to reach out to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in the Fair Food Program to learn more about what they had done, because obviously, as you well know, they've had tremendous success in addressing sexual harassment and other types of misconduct in in their working environment,” Arrington said.

Arrington added that the roadmap is laid out, and she looks forward to applying it to the entertainment world.

“We're really excited to continue to build on the work that they have already done,” Arrington said. “We're excited to create a blueprint to address and prevent misconduct in these independent production companies. And we know a lot of these companies want to get this right.“

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