Lucas Benitez, farmworker leader, to receive Wallenberg Medal


Lucas Benitez, co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a Florida-based labor and human rights organization, will receive the 2023 Wallenberg Medal from the University of Michigan.

Benitez, who is a key organizational leader and member of the CIW’s Fair Food Program worker education team, will receive the award and deliver the Wallenberg Lecture at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 10 in Rackham Auditorium. The Wallenberg Medal and Lecture ceremony is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required.

Lucas Benitez
Lucas Benitez

In addition to being one of the earliest farmworker leaders in the Fair Food movement, Benitez played a critical role in the investigation of several trafficking and slave labor cases, helping to free more than 700 farmworkers in one case alone.

For his work with the CIW, Benitez has been called “one of the most visible farmworker leaders in the U.S.” by the Los Angeles Times.

On behalf of the Fair Food Program, Benitez traveled to the White House to accept the 2015 Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons. Also on behalf of the program, he accepted the 2014 Clinton Global Citizen Award and the 2016 James Beard Leadership Award.

Benitez has won numerous other national and international awards, including the Rolling Stone Magazine Brick Award for “America’s Best Young Community Leader,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award, and, along with two co-workers, the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.

“Lucas Benitez’s work with the CIW reflects the ongoing need for frontline advocates for vulnerable people in our society. This movement harnesses the economic influence of consumers to improve working conditions, labor practices, and pay for farmworkers through its worker-led, market-enforced approach to the protection of human rights underlying corporate supply chains,” said Sioban Harlow, professor emerita of epidemiology and global public health and chair of the Wallenberg Medal Selection Committee.

The Wallenberg Medal and Lecture honors the legacy of Raoul Wallenberg, who graduated from U-M’s College of Architecture in 1935 and saved the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews near the end of World War II.

In 1944, at the request of Jewish organizations and the American War Refugee Board, the Swedish Foreign Ministry sent Wallenberg on a rescue mission to Budapest. Over the course of six months, Wallenberg issued thousands of protective passports and placed many thousands of Jews in safe houses throughout the besieged city.

He confronted Hungarian and German forces to secure the release of Jews, whom he claimed were under Swedish protection, and saved more than 80,000 lives.

Administered by the University’s Donia Human Rights Center, U-M awards the Wallenberg Medal to those who, through their actions and personal commitment, perpetuate Wallenberg’s extraordinary accomplishments and human values, and demonstrate the capacity of the human spirit to stand up for the helpless, to defend the integrity of the powerless, and to speak out on behalf of the voiceless.

Recent Wallenberg Medal recipients include:

  • Safa Al Ahmad, Saudi Arabian journalist and documentary filmmaker (2019).
  • March For Our Lives of Parkland, Florida and The B.R.A.V.E. Youth Leaders of Chicago (2018).
  • Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (2017).

Notable medal recipients over the past 30 years include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Miep Gies, John Lewis, Masha Gessen, Elie Wiesel, Denis Mukwege, and His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet.


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