BY CARMEN SIERING
The discussion of labor exploitation in area restaurants has taken a concrete turn with the distribution of decals and certificates of compliance to the first 10 restaurants joining the Bloomington Human Rights Commission’s Fair Labor Initiative. Stepanka Korytova, a researcher and adjunct professor who teaches courses on human trafficking at Indiana University and who worked with the commission to implement the initiative, says the decals and certificates signify a code of ethics for restaurants, and are a first step in what she hopes is a widespread effort to raise community awareness about restaurant staffing conditions. [Click here to read more about Stepanka Korytova and human trafficking in Bloomington.]
Byron Bangert, chair of the Human Rights Commission, says the program is voluntary and the commission has no legal authority. “But we do have an obligation to promote human rights,” he says. “Restaurant managers have signed an agreement to uphold their compliance with fair labor practices, and we anticipate customers will be attracted to restaurants displaying the decals and choose to patronize those eateries.”
Reagan O’Neill, who owns Runcible Spoon with her husband, Matt, says signing on to the program was an easy decision. “Anyone who is in this business should already be in compliance,” she explains. “Having this out in the open draws attention to the issue in a positive way.” While the decals help customers choose restaurants they might wish to patronize, O’Neill sees them as a useful tool for employees as well. “There is a pride of place for employees when they know they work for people who are fair and doing things correctly,” she says. “We’re excited to put the decal in the window.”
In June, the Human Rights Commission sent a letter explaining the program to Bloomington restaurant owners. Students from Korytova’s Global Human Trafficking course later contacted the restaurants. Another letter will be sent before the end of the year encouraging those who haven’t signed on to do so. “We’ve had expressions of interest from others, so we expect to add to the list soon, but we have a ways to go before we have reached the level of consciousness we hope to reach in this community,” Bangert says.
Korytova feels getting the decals up and the word out is a big part of garnering more support. “If enough publicity is done and people are aware of the Fair Labor Initiative, then they will frequent establishments with the logo,” she says. “And if it’s a success in Bloomington, then maybe more communities will follow suit.”
Fair Labor Initiative Restaurants currently include Runcible Spoon, IU Art Museum/Angles Café, Lennie’s/BBC, Pour House Café, Little Tibet, Taste of India, Village Deli, Laughing Planet, and both Soma locations.