If you read one thing about the Publix campaign, read this…

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mlkUnited Methodist pastor pens powerful argument for Publix to join Fair Food Program, published in Lakeland Ledger;

Publix family member takes to Ledger online comment section to respond, stakes out innovative Zero Social Responsibility position in defense…

This past Saturday, the Lakeland Ledger, Publix’s hometown paper, published an op/ed by the Rev. Audrey Warren, pastor at the Branches United Methodist Church in Florida City, south of Miami.  The piece, titled “Publix Should Agree to Fair Food Deal,” has been the talk of Lakeland ever since, even prompting one Publix heir to run an end around the more cautious PR desk and post his own comment in defense of the grocery giant in the online comment section.  

The op/ed is quite possibly one of the best written, most effectively argued pieces we’ve read on the campaign in a long time.  It is a must read if there ever were one.  And the comment, by Wesley Barnett — who is the son of Publix’s largest shareholder, Carol Jenkins Barnett, and the grandson of Publix’s founder, George Jenkins — is quite revealing in its own right.  His brief response posits what can only be called the Zero Social Responsibility argument in Publix’s defense, placing all responsibility for policing any human rights violations in Publix’s supply chain on government law enforcement agencies, and none on the retailer that purchases, and profits from, goods produced in violation of “slavery and minimum wage laws.”  

The difference between the two arguments could not be more stark.  Given two such powerful statements, we have decided that the best course of action is to simply include them both here, uncut, for your review.  With the two arguments side by side, they can be measured one against the other, mano a mano, weighed and judged.   We begin with the Rev. Warren’s op/ed, followed by Mr. Barnett’s comment:

[ OP-ED COLUMN ]

Publix Should Agree to Fair Food Deal

The coalition first reached out to Publix in 2007. Despite multiple requests, Publix has yet to even meet with the coalition and refuses to join the Fair Food Program.

By AUDREY B. WARREN
Published: Saturday, September 14, 2013 at 12:50 p.m.

This summer, several hundred members of United Methodist Women from across the state met at Florida Southern College for a weekend educational gathering titled Mission U.

As a newly ordained pastor of a Florida City congregation, I was invited to teach a course on poverty. Back at Florida Southern, my alma mater, teaching scores of fellow United Methodist women on this issue, I couldn’t help but think of my senior year there, when in 2004 students and administrators worked together as part of nationwide, interfaith efforts to address poverty and abuse in Florida’s tomato fields.

As a student, I learned about injustices faced by our state’s tomato pickers through a report from the United Methodist General Conference, which supported the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

We visited Immokalee and learned of the “Boot the Bell” campaign to remove Taco Bell restaurants from colleges.

We later met with Dr. Tom Rueshling, then college president, about removing Taco Bell from our campus, but were unable to because of the high cost of breaking the contract.

However, Florida Southern did not renew the contract the next spring. Rueshling then wrote to company officials to inform them that the college’s decision stemmed from Taco Bell’s refusal to sign the Fair Food Agreement.

Since then, the Campaign for Fair Food has made amazing strides: 10 major retailers (including McDonald’s, Subway, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Chipotle) followed Taco Bell’s example for raising human rights standards and pay for farmworkers in Florida’s tomato industry, where several cases of slavery had arisen in the previous 15 years.

Now these companies are working together with farmworkers and the majority of Florida tomato growers to put an end to decades of farmworker abuse and to jointly operate the most advanced social responsibility program in the U.S. produce industry today.

Recently, the Roosevelt Institute announced the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ selection for its prestigious 2013 Four Freedoms Medal, putting the farmworkers in the distinguished company of laureates Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and a handful of U.S. presidents.

The accolade celebrates the coalition’s highly successful Fair Food Program, whereby the aforementioned tomato retailers only buy from farms complying with a new industry code of conduct and also pay an extra penny a pound to dramatically increase workers’ pay. Otherwise, harvesters make less than 2 cents per pound.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers wants Publix to join the Fair Food Program.

The coalition first reached out to Publix in 2007. Despite multiple requests, Publix has yet to even meet with the coalition and refuses to join the Fair Food Program.

When I heard of Publix’s position, I was shocked.

I know what a good company Publix is. Publix is responsible for so many of the renovations at Florida Southern. Its executives have been large supporters of my denominational body’s work statewide. So what reason does Publix give to justify its refusal to participate?

According to the company website, Publix calls the Fair Food Program “a labor dispute.”

President Jimmy Carter, in a letter to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in July, described the Fair Food Program differently: “You have formed innovative partnerships to find common ground between diverse interests, including some of the poorest workers in the United States and their employers, supply chain companies, retailers, consumers and law enforcement. My hope is this will become a model for social responsibility within the agricultural industry.”

As one of Florida’s largest tomato purchasers, Publix is in a unique position to effect social change.

The Fair Food Program is not a labor dispute. Nor, as a solution to decades of abuse and poverty, should it be ignored by those who have profited handsomely, for decades, from the oppressive dynamics long dominating Florida’s tomato industry.

At Mission U, scores of women organized a candlelight vigil outside the Southgate Publix to pray for a change of heart for company leaders.

Most of the vigil attendees shop at Publix and volunteer at their church’s food pantries, which Publix supports. They know the good Publix already does and want to encourage them to do even greater good.

At the conclusion of our poverty class, women expressed that, although they are grateful for Publix’s support in their food pantries, their dream would be that Publix would also choose the significantly greater good by working toward systemic change that could reduce dependence on food pantries.

Farmworkers don’t need to be poor. Publix’s practices either help or hurt their cause.

At our candlelight vigil, we gave the store manager a letter addressed to Carol Jenkins Barnett. It was signed by more than 120 United Methodist women, nearly all regular Publix shoppers.

Barnett has a well-earned reputation for generosity.

As the largest shareholder of Publix stock and daughter of company founder George Jenkins, we prayerfully hope she might steer the company to the greater good.

Mr. Barnett’s comment follow’s below:

barnett_comment

So there you have it.  Two opposing arguments on the notion of corporate social responsibility that couldn’t be more clearly delineated.  What do you think?
 
If you’d like to join the debate, you can click here to go to the article and leave your own comment.  
 
To close this discussion, we’ll bring in a truly big hitter — former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (who, coincidentally, is also a former member of the Walmart Board of Directors and so has seen these same issues from the corporate decision maker’s chair, as well), speaking on slavery.   Secretary Clinton said the following in a speech delivered at a ceremony (pictured below) bestowing the State Department’s 2010 “Hero Acting to End Modern-Day Slavery” award on the CIW’s Laura Germino:

hero_award“All of us have a responsibility to bring this practice to an end. Survivors must be supported and their families aided and comforted, but we cannot turn our responsibility for doing that over to nongovernmental organizations or the faith community.

Traffickers must be brought to justice. And we can’t just blame international organized crime and rely on law enforcement to pursue them. It is everyone’s responsibility. Businesses that knowingly profit or exhibit reckless disregard about their supply chains, governments that turn a blind eye or do not devote serious resources to addressing the problem, all of us have to speak out and act forcefully.”

Powerful words, from all corners.