Gerardo Reyes (CIW), 239-503-0950
Lucas Benitez (CIW), 239-503-0133
Julia Perkins (CIW), 239-986-0891
Farmworkers, Consumers Come Together for
"Farmworker Freedom March" from Tampa to Lakeland,
Hometown of Publix Supermarkets
Landmark three-day event calls for
“Freedom from forced labor, poverty, abuse”
Immokalee, FL (April 14, 2010) – A caravan of farmworkers from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) – an internationally-recognized human rights organization based in Immokalee, FL – and hundreds of consumers from across the country will march for three days from Tampa to Lakeland on April 16-18 to demand that Publix join a growing partnership among farmworkers, Florida tomato growers, and retail food giants aimed at ending decades of farm labor abuse in Florida. The march will culminate on Sunday afternoon, April 18, with a public concert and rally at Munn Park in Lakeland, near the corporate headquarters of Publix Supermarkets, Inc.
The Florida Modern-Day Slavery Museum will accompany the march and actually lead the procession on the 25-mile route. The museum -- described by the Village Voice as possibly "Florida's most important new attraction" -- consists of a cargo truck outfitted as a replica of the truck involved in Florida's latest slavery operation to be prosecuted by the US Department of Justice (US v. Navarrete, 2008), accompanied by displays on the history and evolution of slavery in Florida. The exhibits were developed in consultation with workers who have escaped from farm labor slavery operations as well as leading academic authorities on slavery and labor history in Florida. During its six-week tour, which ends with the march, the traveling exhibit received widespread media coverage, including a recent article by the editor of The Nation magazine, who called for the museum to be exhibited on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
“Publix has turned its back on human rights for far too long,” said Gerardo Reyes of the CIW. “But if Publix won’t face the reality of farmworker exploitation, then we will bring that reality to Publix ourselves.” Reyes continued, “Forced labor, poverty, and abuse are all too real for Florida farmworkers, and we are marching to tell Publix that the days of buying tomatoes no questions asked are over.”
The CIW and its supporters began urging Publix, Florida’s largest privately held corporation, to enter into an agreement to improve wages and working conditions for tomato pickers in its supply chain in 2007. Similar agreements have already been reached between the CIW and eight leading food retailers, including McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, Yum Brands, Compass Group, and Publix competitor Whole Foods. The latest 'Fair Food' agreement was struck just two weeks ago with foodservice leader Aramark.
The agreements require those companies to demand more humane labor standards from their Florida tomato suppliers (including a zero tolerance policy for slavery), to pay a price premium for more fairly produced tomatoes, and to shift purchases to growers who meet those higher standards. East Coast Growers and Packers, along with specialty growers Alderman Farms and Lady Moon Farms, have shown their early support for this effort by agreeing to pass along the pay premium to their tomato harvesters, and to abide by a code of conduct under which workers have a voice and slavery is not tolerated.
What: Farmworker Freedom March
When: Friday, April 16 thru Sunday, April 18
Where: Tampa to Lakeland, FL.
For details, visit www.ciw-online.org/freedom_march/index.html
Publix and the Navarrete slavery prosecution:
Recently, Publix has announced that it has suspended tomato purchases from two of Florida's largest tomato growers, Six L's and Pacific. Over a year ago, the two growers were identified as having used slave labor associated with the Navarrete case. For more than a year after the prosecution, Publix justified its continued purchases from the two growers by saying it pays "market price" for its tomatoes and will not get involved in the "labor disputes of its suppliers." Publix's reversal comes after growing public scrutiny and consumer pressure in the wake of the statewide Modern-Day Slavery Museum tour and the lead-up to the Farmworker Freedom March. Publix has provided no independent verification of the suspension, nor has Publix given any indication of its duration. The CIW was not consulted in the decision.
About the Coalition of Immokalee Workers:
The CIW is a community-based farmworker organization headquartered in Immokalee, Florida, with over 4,000 members. The CIW seeks modern working conditions for farmworkers and promotes their fair treatment in accordance with national and international labor standards. Among its accomplishments, the CIW has aided in the prosecution by the Department of Justice of six slavery operations and the liberation of well over 1,000 workers. The CIW uses creative methods to educate consumers about human rights abuses in the U.S. agriculture industry, the need for corporate social responsibility, and how consumers can help workers realize their social change goals. The CIW's Campaign for Fair Food has won unprecedented support for fundamental farm labor reforms from retail food industry leaders, with the goal of enlisting the market power of those companies to demand more humane labor standards from their Florida tomato suppliers.
UPDATE: Since this page was originally posted, Pacific Tomato Growers has agreed to participate in CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food and has adopted a comprehensive Code of Conduct that affords significant verifiable worker protections. This Code reconfirms Pacific Tomato Grower’s long-standing commitment to a zero tolerance for forced labor. While Pacific Tomato Growers was never the target or subject of the Federal prosecution’s Navarrette investigation, Pacific Tomato Growers agrees that all growers must do more to prevent the use of forced labor on their farms.