On October 10, Lucas Benitez, co-founder of Coalition of Immokalee Workers received the Wallenberg Medal for Achievements in Human Rights from the University of Michigan. Previous recipients include Rep. John Lewis, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama, among others. The Wallenberg Medal honors the memory of Raoul Wallenberg, who saved the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II.
Members of UUCSR have long supported this groundbreaking organization through the Social Justice Committee and as a grantee partner, through Veatch. Along with other UU’s, UUCSR members have visited and marched alongside the workers in Florida in recent years.
Lucas’s path to becoming a human rights advocate and community organizer started when he was just a teenager, working in the fields of farms throughout Florida and Alabama as a means of supporting his family back in Southern Mexico. Struck by the poor working conditions he witnessed, which included wage theft, violence, and sexual harassment, he began organizing alongside like-minded workers to create new protections for farmworkers.
As the Coalition of Immokalee Workers grew, Lucas Benitez helped conceive of and launch the organization’s Fair Food Program, a partnership of farmers, farmworkers, and retail food companies that requires that participating farms pay fair wages and provide humane working conditions for the workers who pick fruits and vegetables. Through this program, the organization has also worked to end sexual harassment and assault that vulnerable women workers have long confronted. The coalition’s Fair Food Program is now protecting workers in 10 states and three countries, including Chile and South Africa. Beyond his work to create and launch the Fair Food Program, Lucas also helped investigate human trafficking within the farmworking industry, leading to the liberation of 700 workers in a 2015 case.
“I am immeasurably honored and humbled to receive the Wallenberg Medal in recognition of our efforts to forge a new paradigm for the protection of fundamental human rights from the fields to factories around the globe,” Lucas Benitez said in a statement. “ “I also want to recognize the efforts of my entire community, the decades of labor of countless women and men in Immokalee in the fields that have brought us to where we are today.”
The Congregation can take pride in its early partnership with Lucas Benitez and all of the immigrant workers in Immokalee who are changing unjust systems that impact farm workers everywhere. We join in congratulating the entire organization on this much-deserved recognition.