Publix: “We are not in agreement with Fair Food”

Nashville consumers: Well, you better think again, if you plan to expand in our community…

A funny thing happened at a Nashville Publix protest the other day… actually, at two recent Nashville Publix protests.

In keeping with its strategy of aggressive response to peaceful consumer actions — including the surveillance and shadowing of Fair Food activists — Publix actually dispatched representatives from its corporate headquarters in Lakeland, Florida, to travel seven hundred miles north to Nashville, Tennessee, just to monitor and deflect consumers gathered there in peaceful protest to call on Publix to do the right thing and sign a Fair Food agreement.

Nashville Fair Food is a local coalition of community, student and faith groups determined to send Florida’s supermarket giant this simple message (from Nashville’s News Channel 5’s coverage of last week’s protest):

“Publix is trying to expand in middle Tennessee, they’re trying to get dozens of more stores in mid Tennessee. We would love to welcome them here, we just ask they have some basic standards about how farm workers are treated.” read more

To that end, Nashville Fair Food organized the two recent actions as part of an ongoing monthly series of protests designed to bring awareness to their neighbors on the ethical shortcomings of the grocery chain that hopes to win their loyalty and patronage.

In an excellent blog post that includes a must-see video from the latest action, Nashville Fair Food members report:

“We are not in agreement with fair food.” That’s what Publix’s spokesman Mike VanDervort told us after our picket in front of their Belle Meade supermarket in Nashville today. Other than that he refused to tell us who he was (or anything else), except that he had flown in from Publix corporate headquarters in Florida to watch our protest and prevent us from talking to our local store managers.

The students, church members, and youth in our delegation looked at each other with surprise. We had spent the last hour talking with the neighboring businesses and Publix customers as they arrived to shop, and literally every single person we talked to had said that they support Publix signing the Fair Food Agreement with the workers who pick Publix’s produce… And now, Mike was telling us exactly what would shock his customers the most: the truth that Publix is prepared to hold out and block the entire industry-changing Fair Food Program from going forward…” read more

Leaving aside the absurdity of the Publix rep’s statement (Which part, exactly, of “Fair Food” does the company not agree with? Access to clean drinking water and shade? Transparent mechanisms for addressing and eliminating sexual harassment and violence in the fields? Third-party oversight?), Publix’s over-the-top behavior in response to two local, peaceful demonstrations is telling.

After all, in the words of Tristan Call of Nashville Fair Food, mid-Tennessee “is supposed to be brimming with eagerly-awaiting customers. Not demonstrators concerned over labor conditions in the fields where Publix sources their tomatoes.” Publix has meticulously crafted a certain image; having people tell the truth about Publix’s stubborn refusal to support the Fair Food Program, and the possible reasons for this refusal, calls this image into question.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Publix could seize the opportunity to join in the Fair Food Program and distinguish itself as a leader in the supermarket industry. But until that happens, Publix can expect more of the same in Nashville and beyond, because consumers are no longer content to remain silent as Publix claims to be a good corporate neighbor while turning its back on the very workers, and neighbors, that make is vast wealth possible.

And with that, we’ll give the last word to our friends in Nashville:

“The picket started with rain, but about fifteen community allies came out to chant, sing, and march together. Just after we began to walk the sidewalk and pass out flyers to curious customers, the clouds broke and the sun came out. That’s exactly the kind of bright turnaround we’re hoping to see from Publix. If not, we’ll be back next month…”