Trader Joe’s customers talk back…

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Fair Food activists talk with customers at a recent protest in New York City. On the right, a Trader Joe’s representative stands by.
“Note to Trader Joe’s from its customers, via the CIW” puts the exclamation point on the Trader Joe’s trilogy

With its recent “Note to our Customers on Florida tomatoes and the CIW,” Trader Joe’s tried to reassure its customers that the company’s decision to stiff-arm the Campaign for Fair Food was the right one. It did so in response to a rising wave of discontent, in response, as Trader Joe’s says, to the “many customers [who] ask why we would not just sign on to a cause that is a simple “Fair Food” approach to selling tomatoes.”

Well, no conversation on social responsibility and human rights for farmworkers in our food system can — or ever will again — be as one-sided as Trader Joe’s and its communications department would have it.

And so, we here at the CIW have posted three detailed answers to Trader Joe’s “Note,” each covering a different aspect of the curious (and quite long) communique, which you can find at the following links:

But the Trader Joe’s trilogy needed an exclamation point, a statement as bold and as powerful as the original “Note” was convoluted and misguided. And so, we decided to share the thoughts of Trader Joe’s own customers, the thousands upon thousands of people who shop at Trader Joe’s and with whom we have had the opportunity to speak, either at one of dozens of protests across the country, or online.

As Trader Joe’s itself admits, there are many (many, many, really) customers who are disappointed with the grocer they have come to love, and like any love tarnished by a glimpse of some heretofore hidden but depressingly ugly facet of a loved one’s character, the reactions can be pretty brutal.

So, with that disclaimer, what follows is the final installment in the response to Trader Joe’s most recent note to its customers, a “Note from its customers, to Trader Joe’s, via the CIW”:

A Note to Trader Joe’s from its Customers, via the CIW:

Over the past several months, we have had the opportunity to speak to thousands of your customers, both in person at dozens of protests and via the web. And they just don’t get it.

They don’t get why a company like Trader Joe’s — a company most of them really love — wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to help lift farmworkers out of poverty in Florida after decades of well-documented exploitation. They don’t get why Trader Joe’s — a company with a reputation for humane, ethical purchasing policies — wouldn’t be leading, instead of fighting, the first real hope for a more humane, more ethical future for farm labor.

They don’t get why Trader Joe’s is acting like WalMart. And they don’t like it.

And, if the initial reaction is any indication, they really don’t get your recent “Notes to Our Customers on Florida Tomatoes and the CIW”. The notes haven’t helped your customers accept or even understand your position at all. If anything, they’ve only made things worse.

You say you support all the key principles of the Campaign for Fair Food, but then you totally belie that with transparent efforts to gut all its key principles. You cast doubts on the credibility of the Fair Food Program, but then you say you are happy to buy only from suppliers who have signed Fair Food agreements. The “Notes” convey a sense of flailing and confusion that is hardly befitting a company with your reputation.

Fortunately, it is not too late to correct your course. This hasn’t gone so far, yet, that it’s had any permanent impact on your brand. But if you keep acting so “s**mbaggy” — and you’ll excuse us, but that’s a direct quote from a long-time, devoted customer of yours — then you can be sure it will.

But turn around now and join the Campaign for Fair Food to put your purchasing power to work to improve the lives of Florida’s farmworkers — in a way that respects and honors not only the years of undervalued labor they have contributed to your company’s bottom line, but the years of sacrifice they have had to endure to build this Campaign — and it will only help build your brand.

And it’s not like this is some kind of untested idea we are trying out on Trader Joe’s. You would be the tenth, not the first, retail food company to implement the Fair Food principles in your supply chain. At this point, there’s no longer any ground to be broken, no unknown to fear. The path is well-trodden already, by companies much larger than yours.

So do the right thing, Trader Joe’s. Let WalMart be WalMart. You be the Trader Joe’s your customers have come to believe in.