Publix Leadership Ignore Farmworker Exploitation


The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is a grassroots, workers’ rights organization that has been nationally recognized for its campaigns to combat exploitation and modern-day slavery of migrant farmworkers. Migrant farmworkers never received the basic rights secured by the long struggle of the labor movement, such as the right to a reasonable minimum wage or the right to organize and to bargain collectively. With limited legal recourse, the CIW resorted to direct action, including an ongoing campaign to pressure large corporate food purchasers to join their Fair Food Program, which “is a unique farmworker- and consumer-driven initiative consisting of a wage increase supported by a price premium paid by corporate purchasers of Florida tomatoes, and a human-rights-based Code of Conduct, applicable throughout the Florida tomato industry.”

The CIW targets large corporate food purchasers, because those purchasers are responsible for depressing wages and working conditions by demanding the lowest prices from food suppliers with much less bargaining power. The price premium element of the Fair Food Program refers to the payment of an additional 1.5 cents per pound of tomatoes. These premiums have resulted in the payment of over $4 million to tomato farmworkers since January of 2011, in the form of separately itemized bonuses on farmworkers’ paychecks. Yum Brands (2005), McDonald’s (2007), Burger King (2008), Subway (2008), Whole Foods Market (2008), Bon Appetit Management Company (2009), Compass Group (2009), Aramark (2010), Sodexo (2010), Trader Joe’s (2012), and Chipotle (2012) all participate in the Fair Food Program. Accordingly, all ten participating companies “have agreed to pay a premium price for more fairly produced tomatoes, and to shift their Florida tomato purchases to growers who comply with the Fair Food Code of Conduct.” 

Since 2007, the CIW has requested for Publix Super Markets, Florida’s largest private company and one of the largest grocery chains in the Southeast, to join the Fair Food Program. However, Publix’s leadership provided the following shameful responses, as summarized on the CIW website

Since the CIW first began to press Publix to support the Campaign for Fair Food, the supermarket giant's efforts at communicating its reasons for refusing to participate have been, to put it charitably, inartful. First there was the yes-we-do-but-we-pay-a-fair-market-price explanation for continuing to purchase tomatoes from fields tainted by the most recent slavery prosecution. Then there was the now famous atrocities-are-not-our-business defense for refusing to adopt the CIW's Fair Food Code of Conduct. And, of course, they never could quite bring themselves to retire the old we-don't-get-involved-in-labor-disputes canard, despite the fact that reality had left that argument behind two seasons ago. Now comes the put-it-in-the-price defense…The penny-per-pound premium is, in fact, built into the final price, on the invoice, for the majority of retailers participating in the Fair Food program. The retailers simply pay for their tomatoes, as they always have, only now with a small premium, similar to any fair trade product. The accounting and distribution of the penny-per-pound funds are handled down stream in the supply chain. The workers are paid by the growers, in the form of a bonus in each check. Publix would have nothing to do with paying "employees of other companies directly for their labor."

For years, Publix’s leadership ignored their moral obligation to use their powerful position to minimize the exploitation of the farmworkers who make their profits possible. To learn how you can assist in pressuring Publix to join the Fair Food Program, and to assist the CIW in general, consider registering for Working Together for Farm Worker Justice, which will take place on Saturday, February 2, 2013 at First Unitarian Church of Orlando. This workshop-style event will conclude with a Fair Food Program demonstration at a local Publix. Additionally, the CIW will begin a March for Rights, Respect and Fair Food on Sunday, March 3, 2013 from Ft. Myers, FL to the Publix headquarters in Lakeland, FL. The purposes of the march are to publicize the past success of the CIW’s efforts including the Fair Food Program and “to underscore the hard work that remains to be done as supermarket industry leaders -- chief among them Publix -- continue to undermine that progress and deny their responsibility to do their part to end decades of farmworker poverty and degradation.”

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