Modern-Day Slavery Museum Northeast Tour Day Eleven, Aug. 6, 2010 Quincy, MA & Amsterdam

Day Eleven of the Northeast Tour was a clear departure from previous days, distinguished by two inspiring actions that ratcheted up pressure on supermarket giant Ahold on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the U.S., the tour crew (pictured above) delivered nearly 1,000 postcards — each signed by consumers during the first half of the three-week tour — to Ahold USA’s corporate headquarters in Quincy, MA.

While across the ocean in Amsterdam, Dutch Fair Food allies organized an impressive march and political theater in Ahold’s hometown.

They were joined by the one and only Rev. Billy of the Church of Life after Shopping, shown here above talking with a member of the Dutch media before the launch of the march. Rev. Billy was in Amsterdam for the premier of “Crazyshopping,” a musical comedy which opened Sunday in Amsterdam’s biggest theater, the 1750 seat Royal Carre Theater.

Rev. Billy brought his unique mix of theater and protest to the Amsterdam action, preaching the values of ethical consumerism with the fervor and rhythms of an old school tent revival.

At the invitation of Holland-based Fair Food allies — who recently put Ahold on notice with an open letter from Dutch labor unoins, faith-based organizations, and NGO’s — Rev. Billy helped lead an unconventional protest march through the heart of the historic city, from the Ahold-owned grocery chain Albert Heijn to Ahold’s head offices on the Piet Heinkade. Along the way, the participants handed out thousands of leaflets to both tourists and Amsterdam residents alike.

The march was capped off with a rally on the brick plaza outside Ahold’s corporate headquarters, where the political theater continued…

… followed by a visit from an Ahold spokesperson, who engaged in a brief dialogue with the marchers, represented here by Marijke Bijl of the Dutch immigrant worker NGO OKIA. Marijke also presented the representative with a packet of communications that had been submitted to Ahold by the Dutch Fair Food allies but never answered.

The Ahold representative emphasized his company’s ongoing “investigation” of its Florida tomato supply chain and its two meetings with CIW representatives as evidence that his company is taking the Campaign for Fair Food seriously (though, as the Campaign is now entering its second decade and counts nine other major food corporations among its active partners — and the slavery operation that Ahold claims to be “investgating” was investigated and prosecuted in US federal court — it would seem that the time for “investigation” is over and the time for action is now…).

From all reports, the exciting Amsterdam action — and Ahold’s continuing refusal to join in a formal partnership with the CIW for fair farm labor conditions — left the Dutch branch of the Campaign for Fair Food energized and ready for more acton in the weeks and months ahead!

Back stateside, the Northeast Tour crew set a course for Ahold’s US corporate headquarters in Quincy, Massachusetts, just a few hours from its last stop in New York City (hence the New Amsterdam reference at the top of this update…).

This Stop&Shop distribution truck (Stop&Shop is one of Ahold’s key US grocery chains) conveniently led the way along a good stretch of the route.

Once in Quincy, the tour crew wasted no time in setting up shop at the historic United First Parish Church, also known as “Church of the Presidents.” Designed and built in 1827-28, this national historic site contains the graves of two Presidents, John and John Quincy Adams, and is considered one of the most august houses of worship in New England.

And, most conveniently, Ahold USA’s corporate headquarters (the building shown here in the background on the left) was located across the street and just down the block from the museum’s temporary home.

Ahold’s corporate employees could hardly look out their windows without seeing the museum and the crowd it attracted throughout the day.

But the centerpiece of the museum’s stop in Quincy was, of course, the delivery of consumer postcards to Ahold’s headquarters. Here, Oscar Otzoy of the CIW counts and stacks over 1,000 postcards signed by Giant and Stop & Shop concerned customers from across the Eastern Seaboard — from Virginia to DC to Philadelphia to New York to New Jersey — postcards gathered in just a few days of the museum on tour.

Upon its arrival at the headquarter’s entrance, however, our peaceful delegation of two CIW members and three allies was met by an utterly unnecessary additional security detail hired that day by Ahold executives. Upon entering the building, the delegation was greeted by still more security, promptly asked to leave, and firmly instructed to abandon the signed postcards of Giant and Stop & Shop customers — cards that many corporations would call valuable customer feedback — on the sidewalk outside.

Ahold’s decision to greet the visit by the Modern day Slavery Museum with extra security demonstrates an almost total failure on the part of the company — despite two face-to-face meetings between CIW and Ahold representatives to date — to appreciate either the seriousness of the CIW or the gravity of the exploitation and degradation of farm labor in Florida we are calling on Ahold to address. We can only hope that the company’s ongoing “review” of its Florida tomato supply chain ultimately demonstrates a better grasp of the Campaign for Fair Food and reality we are working to change.

But before our delegation was allowed to leave on such a bitter note, it appears that some cooler minds within Ahold may have regretted their hard-line “leave it on the sidewalk” security position, as the head of security was dispatched to meet the delegation.

Although we’re not sure you could call it a meeting, since it consisted of little more than Ahold’s security chief taking the stack of postcards, turning, and walking back inside…

Following that disappointing visit to Ahold headquarters, the museum crew returned to the “Church of the Presidents” for a little inspiration, which they quickly found at the tomb of the country’s second president, John Adams.

Adams was a staunch foe of slavery and his son, John Quincy Adams, successfully argued the famous “Amistad” case in the Supreme Court, resulting in the freedom of dozens of Africans who had seized control of the slave ship on which they were being transported to the new world before it could deliver them into a life of slavery.

But before Amistad, and more than half a century before the Emancipation Proclamation, Adams the elder had this to say about slavery:

“Consenting to slavery is a sacrilegious breach of trust, as offensive in the sight of God as it is derogatory from our own honor or interest of happiness”

Two hundred years later, those words remain wise and needed counsel, for Ahold, and the food industry as a whole, from farm to plate.