University of Michigan to Award Wallenberg Medal to Lucas Benitez on October 10, 2023

Benitez has been called “one of the most visible farmworker leaders in the US” by the “Los Angeles Times,” and his work reflects the ongoing need for frontline advocates for vulnerable people in our society.

Lucas Benitez, a co-founder of the Florida-based labor and human rights organization the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and a key organizational leader and member of the CIW’s Fair Food Program worker education team, will receive the 2023 Wallenberg Medal from the University of Michigan on October 10th at 7:30pm in Rackham Auditorium. 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 over 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 US” by the Los Angeles Times. On behalf of the Fair Food Program, Lucas 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 Fair Food Program, he accepted the 2014 Clinton Global Citizen Award and the 2016 James Beard Leadership Award. Benitez has won numerous national and international awards, including the Rolling Stone Magazine Brick Award for “America’s Best Young Community Leader,” the US 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); and 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.

The Wallenberg Medal and Lecture ceremony is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required. Please direct any inquiries about the event and requests for event accessibility accommodations to or 734-936-3973.

Housed within the International Institute’s Donia Human Rights Center, the Wallenberg Medal and Lecture is supported by the Wallenberg Endowment, which was established in 1985. 

The Donia Human Rights Center is a forum for intellectual exchange on issues around human rights among scholars, practitioners, students, and the broader public. We aim to promote deeper understanding of human rights issues in the contemporary world and to equip our constituents with the tools to tackle challenging human rights problems around the world.

The International Institute brings together distinguished and diverse faculty and scholars with deep area studies and international expertise to enrich the university’s intellectual environment and provide the U-M community with the knowledge, tools, and experience to become informed and active global citizens. We advance this mission through education, engagement, and innovation.