Support for Fast, Campaign, wide, deep…

Nearly 1,000 Fair Food activists flocked to Lakeland last Saturday to show their support for the 61 workers and allies who fasted for six-days to demand that Publix do its part to support the CIW’s Fair Food Program. Click here to see a remarkable photo slide show by Forest Woodward, a photographer who spent the entire week with the fasters as part of a documentary film crew.

A week later, support still coming in…

The impact of last week’s Fast for Fair Food will not be fully known for some time to come, but the unprecedented dimensions of support for the fasters and their cause became clear even before the Fast began and only continued to grow after the Fast came to an end last Saturday.

The breadth of support — from faith and student allies to small farmers, environmental activists, and more — has been extraordinary. We’ve collected here below a few of the very latest messages of support that made their way into CIW headquarters.

We begin with perhaps the most unlikely — and so in many ways most encouraging — statement: a letter to Publix CEO Ed Crenshaw signed by 149 students from the MBA Evening Program, Classes of 2012 and 2013, at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. Its logic is simple, clear, and most of all, good for business. We include the letter here in its entirety:

final6Dear Mr. Crenshaw,

We are writing to express our concern about Publix’s continued refusal to sign the Fair Food Agreement developed by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) or, at a minimum, to meet with this organization of farmworkers. We strongly urge you to reconsider your position.

As MBA students, we appreciate your fiduciary duty to shareholders and desire to maximize profits. However, Publix’s mission statement commits the company to being “involved as responsible citizens in our communities.” We believe a commitment to responsible corporate citizenship includes sourcing products in a way that respects the human rights and the dignity of workers throughout the supply chain. We were therefore dismayed to read a statement by your company’s spokesperson, Dwaine Stevens, that, “if there are some atrocities going on, it’s not our business.” Such disregard for the health and safety of workers in your supply chain is not befitting a company whose mission includes responsible citizenship in its communities, which include the communities in which your products are produced.

We encourage you to live up to the admirable commitment in your mission statement by joining with other food industry leaders—Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and many others—in pledging to purchase only ethically grown tomatoes. Specifically, we urge you to use only suppliers who adhere to the CIW code of conduct and implement an additional penny per pound premium for farmworkers. As consumers, we would gladly pay a small premium to know that the same workers who feed us will earn enough to feed their own families. As future business leaders, we aspire to work for companies that demonstrate the highest ethical principles in their treatment of employees, suppliers, and customers.

We appreciate your consideration on this matter.

The Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), wrote his own “Statement in Support of the Fast for Fair Food at Publix Headquarters.” Here’s an excerpt:

final2“… The leaders of Publix have a decision to make.Will they sit face to face, and resolve whatever concerns they have together with the CIW or will they turn aside? Will they be able to see the great transformation that they can help bring about by working together with you? I pray that they will without delay.

I close with the encouragement of God’s words through the prophet Isaiah. These words were spoken to the Hebrew people as they returned from exile. They are a vision of human society, whole and well.

“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind….They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit…they shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together…They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord” (Isaiah 65:17, 21-22a, 23-25).

Be encouraged! That day is coming! Your sacrifice is hastening it. God bless this holy work.” read more

Bishop John Noonan, Bishop of the Diocese of Orlando, added his voice to those praying that the leaders of Publix find their way to “work in collaboration with the Immokalee Workers to advance the rights of agricultural worker.” Here’s an excerpt:

final3“… While many in our community take for granted how our food comes to our table, many of our brothers and sisters who work in the fields suffer a lack of respect and justice that is their due. The Catholic Church has a long history of supporting fair wage initiatives, wages that provide dignity for labor. 90% of Florida tomato farms are working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to implement the Fair Food Program, including providing shade, water, a confidential way to report abuses, improved pay and much more. We are pleased with the progress that has been made within the corporate community and we pray that others will follow them in solidarity. We urge the Publix corporate leaders to support this initiative that promotes dignity and justice.

We stand in solidarity with the CIW today who fast for fair food. We pray for Publix and their corporate leaders that God will inspire them to work in collaboration with the Immokalee Workers to advance the rights of agricultural workers. We pray for all who labor that during this season of Lent, justice will be achieved through just wages and that the dignity and rights of those who work to bring food to our tables be respected. May we continue to build the kingdom of God by satisfying the the hunger and thirst of the many who depend on our compassion and action.

God bless you”

Finally, we hear from the community of small farmers, a community that knows intimately the pressure created on farm prices by the volume purchasing power of today’s retail giants, the same price pressure that threatens the survival not just of farmworkers, but of family farms, as well. The National Family Farm Coalition issued this statement in support of the Fast:

final4“The National Family Farm Coalition – comprised of organizations representing family farmers, ranchers, fishermen and other advocates for food sovereignty – stands today in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their Fast for Fair Food. Our coalitions share a belief in fair pay and decent working conditions for all people.

Those of us here and across the country fasting with the Immokalee Workers wish to bring attention to the harsh circumstances under which many farm laborers work. Most farmworkers today earn about $12,000 a year, despite long days of hard physical labor, exposure to toxic chemicals, nomadic living conditions, the threat of physical and sexual violence, and deportation.

While we commend grocers such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s for signing the Fair Food Agreement, Publix and other grocery store chains have yet to do so. It’s time for them to step up and recognize the demands of the Immokalee Workers and farm laborers around the world. It’s time to end this modern-day slavery. It’s time to provide fair wages and humane conditions to the people who bring the world its food – they deserve no less.”

And we close with the voice of one family farmer in particular, a longtime friend of the CIW and the Campaign for Fair Food, Wisconsin dairy farmer Jim Goodman, who writes:

final5“Publix Supermarket has a website called “I heart Publix” where “saving you money is my pleasure”. Their customers are supposed to love them because Publix saves them money.

Publix was named one of the top 100 companies to work for by Fortune magazine in 2010, so their employees are supposed to love them too.

How ironic is it then, that the farm workers represented by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), who work 10-12 hour days picking tomatoes to stock the shelves of Publix must resort to a hunger strike to, again, ask Publix to walk the walk and join the Fair Food Campaign.

Publix is a $25 billion company, would paying the farm workers,— their workers, an extra penny a pound for the tomatoes they pick be an undue burden on their profitability?

The founder of Publix George Jenkins said “don’t let making a profit stand in the way of doing the right thing”. Apparently the current management of Publix does not want to let doing the right thing stand in the way of making a profit. So unbelievably tragic, so unbelievably selfish.

Unconscionable, for a penny a pound, Publix will ignore the inadequate wages, ignore the backbreaking work, ignore the atrocities and self righteously bask in their ranking as one of the “best” companies to work for.

As a farmer, I know hard work and long hours, I have stood with the workers of the CIW and I know they ask for no more than they or any worker deserves.

Publix stands for all that is wrong with our food system, an employer who sees the worker as nothing more than a piece of the machinery, — not worth a penny more.

Jim Goodman
Wonewoc WI

That’s all for now. We’ll leave you with one last look at the incredible final video from the Fast. If you’ve seen it already, enjoy it one more time. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and take three minutes to check it out. And have a great weekend: