Editorial on Aramark agreement: “Farmworkers have justice on their side”

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Publix: “We don’t like anybody coming into our house telling us how to do business”…

The Ft. Myers News-Press published the following editorial in Monday’s paper, commenting on last week’s announcement of the CIW’s agreement with Aramark, the eighth Fair Food agreement with retail food industry leaders:

“Farmworkers have justice on their side”
Ft. Myers News-Press, 4/5/10 “The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has scored another triumph in its inspiring campaign for a better pay and conditions for the hard-working people who pick Florida tomatoes.

This remarkable grass-roots organization has succeeded in an age when labor and social activism appear to be declining. It has done so with a good deal of media and political savvy, but its greatest strength is its just cause.

It’s hard for a person of conscience not to sympathize with field workers who put food on our obesity-inducing trays and tables in exchange for maybe $10,000 a year, working and living under conditions which, at their best, are nowhere near what most Americans would accept. The coalition wants them to make $16,000 or $17,000.

Philadelphia-based food service giant Aramark is the latest to agree to pay extra for Florida tomatoes produced under a strict code of conduct. Coalition partners favor Florida growers who meet higher standards and avoid those with a record of labor abuses. Students were a key to the latest success, brought on board with old-fashioned education.

Aramark joins Compass, the world’s largest food-service company, fast food giants Yum Brands, McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway; and the leading natural food grocery group, Whole Foods Markets.

Most resisted, but relented in part for a practical business reason: The public dislikes injustice in its food.”

Meanwhile, in a May, 2009, story in the Produce Business journal, Publix had this to say in response to a question about whether Publix gets involved in the Fair Trade market:

“Ken Whitacre (Produce Business reporter): Does Publix participate in Fair Trade with bananas or coffee or anything like that?

Maria Brous (Publix Director of Media and Communications): We have stayed out of Fair Trade. We believe that those are issues that need to be handled outside of our arena. We are not involved. We encourage the parties to come to the table and have those discussions and our job, at the end of the day, is to be a responsible supplier to our customers, be an outlet. We do not engage in this regard. We are very respectful.

We don’t like anybody coming into our house telling us how to do business. We don’t go into other people’s and do that, but we do establish the relationships for the long-term. It’s not uncommon for you to go to our sup- pliers that we have worked with for 30, 40, some 50 years, and still remember Mr. George.” read the story in its entirety here

So, there you have two very distinct articulations of the place of social responsibility — and the consumer — in the food industry today. We’ll leave it up to you to decide which most closely reflects your perspective. Of course… if you’d like an opportunity to let Publix know what you think, this April 16-18, you’ll have your chance. Hope to see you there!