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March 5, 2012

"Why We Are Fasting"...

150 people gathered this morning at Publix headquarters in Lakeland, Florida -- including 61 workers from Immokalee and their allies who started their fast last night at midnight -- for the launch of the Fast for Fair Food. After a moving opening ceremony and a couple of hours spent setting up camp, the fasters settled into what will be their daily routine for the coming week -- morning medical check-ups, music, presentations, and standing in witness to the daily struggle for survival of their fellow farmworkers in the fields of Florida.

At the final meeting last night before today's launch of the fast, a CIW member read a statement entitled "Why We Are Fasting". We are including it here below in its entirety.

[You can follow the fast during the day on facebook and twitter (using the hashtag #fairfoodfast) and check back here this afternoon for a full report from Day One of the Fast for Fair Food!]:

Why We Are Fasting

Farmworkers have, for generations, been denied a fair wage for the arduous work we do in the fields. In return for the vital contributions we make to this country's economy and society we have received decades of stagnant wages and abuses of our basic rights.

The just wages we merit have instead been taken from us by corporations like Publix and others at the top of the food system who have used their unprecedented power to demand artificially cheap tomatoes from their suppliers. These purchasing practices rob workers of much of their fairly earned compensation and contribute mightily to the profit margins of these giant food retailers, representing a massive transfer of money up the supply chain.

This is why, for generations, hundreds of thousands of farmworkers and their families have been impoverished while over the course of generations Publix has become unimaginably wealthy.

While, for decades, there was no alternative to this structural farm labor exploitation, Publix could wash its hands of any direct accountability for the brutal working and living conditions faced by Florida's farmworkers. But that has changed. With the CIW's historic agreement with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange in 2010, and the subsequent implementation of the Fair Food Program on over 90% of Florida's tomato farms, the opportunity exists today to right a wrong that has plagued the food industry for generations, to finally end Florida's Harvest of Shame.

Yet, despite this opportunity to do the right thing – to support a proven model for social responsibility that is already backed by ten other retail food giants – Publix has refused to do its part, turning its back on farmworkers and on its customers who, in massive numbers, have demonstrated their support for farm labor justice.

Publix is deliberately choosing to keep doing business as if it were the last century, continuing to enrich itself at the expense of the state's most exploited workers. In other words, by turning its back on the Fair Food Program, Publix has moved from passively profiting from farmworker poverty to affirmatively perpetuating it. This is an amoral and fundamentally indefensible choice.

For these reasons we declare:

Our struggle is for respect and a fair wage but Publix treats our dignity like a commodity.

Our struggle is for all actors the Fair Food Program so that abuses can no longer be committed with impunity or tolerated without consequence. And Publix responds, “If there are some atrocities going on, it's not our business.” This, while it profits from the humiliation and abuses that make possible the cheap tomatoes that it purchases.

Our struggle is for justice and so that our community does not have to go hungry despite being some of the hardest working people in our nation. But Publix hides behind its mask of excuses and cold public relations to evade responsibility.

Our struggle is a moral struggle that will not be resolved under the dark clouds of greed and dishonesty, but rather under the purifying light of a commitment to work together. We call on Publix to live up to the words of its own founder, George Jenkins, who declared “never let profit get in the way of doing the right thing.”

Publix, the agricultural industry needs you to support the changes taking root today under the Fair Food Program. Your own customers demand this and hope for you to do the right thing. Farmworker families also demand this – families who are also your neighbors and who hope for the day that you recognize their humanity.

And so, today we fast so that Publix will stop lying to confuse the public. Today we fast so that Publix gains the integrity and the moral courage to look in farmworkers' eyes and speak directly and respectfully with us so that we may find a way to work together.

Today we fast so that tomorrow none of our children are forced to surrender their dignity or to suffer through hunger just to work. Today we fast so that the people in charge of Publix can understand in their hearts that there is no reason to fight against these profoundly human changes that are already taking root. Today we fast so that Publix and the Jenkins family understand that the changes we seek are necessary, possible, and inevitable.

Today we fast so that we may bring an end to a conflict we never wanted – and sit at the table together with Publix to construct a reality in which no one's prosperity is based on the blood, sweat, tears and humiliation of another human being.

For a future where food is produced with dignity, we fast.

To read about why we are fasting, you can
see the Fast for Fair Food announcement here.