Unsettling experience at last weekend’s Publix actions becomes issue in Publix campaign…

Man (right) who followed protests from city to city, filmed under false pretenses, now identified as Publix “associate,” filming for Publix. Unexplained filming of children questioned.

In a bizarre turn of events, a man who followed CIW members and allies around Southwest Florida last weekend, filming the protests — and on several occasions denying that he works for Publix, claiming instead to be making a documentary on “social movements” — has been identified as a Publix “associate” who arranged to provide a copy of his film to Publix, according to the Ft. Myers News-Press (“Man filming protest a Publix worker,” 10/23/09). Here’s the story:

“Members of a farmworkers group felt an unsettling sense of deja vu when they learned a man — who called himself “an old hippie” making an independent documentary — filming them protesting at Publix actually works for the supermarket giant.

And Publix plans to archive copies of his footage, though it won’t say why.

Instead of keeping the film, Publix should destroy it and apologize to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, said W. Michael Hoffman, executive director of the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley University in Massachusetts.

“This man deceived them. The filming was done under false pretenses. That is an unethical act,” Hoffman said. “I would hope the board of Publix would find this inappropriate and in violation of their code of conduct.”

John Attaway, Publix general counsel and senior vice president, did not respond to phone calls or e-mails seeking comment.”

The article goes on to quote several people who were present at the events, noticed something peculiar about the videographer, and asked him to identify himself:

“I just walked up to him,” said the Rev. Dana Hendershot of Naples’ Christus Victor Lutheran Church. “He told me he was just an old hippie into protest movements.”

In Sarasota, New College student Andrea Ortiz talked to him.

“He said he was doing a documentary on the protest culture because he was from the ’60s,” Ortiz said. “And he told me he wasn’t from Florida.”

Ortiz asked for his contact information. He wrote “Southeast Production Services” and a phone number. “He told me his name was Tom, but he didn’t give me his last name,” she said.

A check of the number shows it belongs to Thomas McGuigan of Tampa. Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten confirmed McGuigan works for Publix.

For it’s part, Publix had this to say:

Patten [Publix spokesperson Shannon Patten] wrote in an e-mail: “(McGuigan) is working on an independent documentary and has been doing so for some time. Knowing that he would be there filming, we have asked him to provide us a copy of his footage for our records.”

Publix hasn’t answered calls and e-mails asking why it wants the images.

Particularly disturbing about the man’s filming was the fact that he appeared to focus unnecessarily on children attending the protest. If, as Ms. Patten admits, Publix arranged to obtain a copy of the film, what possible use would footage of children have for the supermarket giant?

The story ended with a quote from Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast Food Nation” and a long-time observer of the Campaign for Fair Food who wrote a widely-read op/ed in the New York Times (“Burger with a side of spies,” 5/7/08) last time the CIW was the target of unethical corporate tactics:

Eric Schlosser, who wrote the best-selling “Fast Food Nation,” and testified at last year’s Senate hearings on Florida’s tomato industry, calls McGuigan’s filming “unbelievable.”

“It’s not just the lying and spying, it’s the focus on their kids that’s so weird,” he said. “There’s no question they should destroy that film.”

What Publix does with the film remains an open question at this point. See the story in its entirety here.