Open Letter from Rabbis for Human Rights – North America to Publix

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Dear manager,

We, the undersigned rabbis, are writing to urge Publix to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and the Florida tomato industry to address the sub-poverty wages and human rights abuses faced by farmworkers who pick Publix’s tomatoes.

There is a well-documented human rights crisis in Florida’s fields, and the conditions facing farmworkers who harvest your company’s tomatoes are as urgent as they are appalling. Tomato harvesters are still paid by the piece, with wages that have changed little in more than 30 years. In the most extreme conditions, farmworkers have been held against their will and forced to work for little or no pay, facing conditions that meet the stringent legal standards for prosecution as modern-day slavery. One federal prosecutor has called Florida “ground zero for modern-day slavery.”

As rabbis, we believe that our faith calls on us to work for justice. Jewish values demand that we fight for an end to modern slavery and human rights abuses. During our Passover holiday each spring, we remember our experience as slaves in Egypt and pledge that we work for a world where no one is enslaved. We believe that every human being is created in the image of God. Our faith also demands that workers be paid a fair wage for their work and are treated with the respect and dignity due to a reflection of the divine image.

We urge Publix to actively join in ensuring fair wages and conditions for those who pick Publix’ tomatoes. Today the members of the Florida Tomato Growers exchange – representing 90% of Florida’s tomato growers – are implementing the CIW’s Fair Food program, along with retail food industry leaders such as Whole Foods, McDonald’s and Subway. Under the program, those retailers require more humane labor standards from their Florida tomato suppliers and pay a price premium for those more fairly produced tomatoes. They also buy only from growers who meet those high standards. But Publix has actively resisted join the Fair Food Program.

It is imperative that Publix seize the opportunity to be part of the solution to Florida’s longstanding history of farmworker exploitation.

Publix founder George Jenkins used to say, “Don’t let making a profit get in the way of doing the right thing.” As rabbis, we implore you to honor his principle by joining the Fair Food Program to to ensure human rights and fair wages for the farmworkers who harvest the tomatoes sold in your stores.

For more information, please contact Rabbis for Human Rights-North America at 212-845-5201 or office@rhr-na.org and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers at 239-657-8311 or workers@ciw-online.org.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs

Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster

Rabbi Charles Feinberg

Rabbi Suzanne Singer

Rabbi Jody Cohen

Rabbi Brian Schuldenfrei

Rabbi Edward Bernstein

Rabbi Barbara Penzner

Rabbi Joel Sisenwine

Rabbi Andrew Kastner

Rabbi Debra Hachen

Rabbi Sharyn Henry

Rabbi Jonathan Klein

Rabbi Anna Boswell-Levy

Rabbi Mark Borowitz

Arielle Rosenberg (student rabbi)

David Spinrad (student rabbi)

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