“You say GreenWise, we say GreenWash!”

An ally from the Florida Immigrant Coalition holds a blown-up photo of Publix’s new Fair Trade coffee during Thursday’s early morning protest. Anger over Publix’s glaring double standard on Fair Trade coffee and Fair Food tomatoes sparked a protest at last week’s big store opening in Naples.

“You say GreenWise, we say GreenWash!”

Publix’s double standard on display as protesters picket last week’s “GreenWise” store opening in Naples, Florida;he

CIW, allies call out Publix for aggressively marketing Fair Trade coffee while stubbornly turning its back on Fair Food tomatoes

[See a great local CBS news video of protest here]

As readers of this site may remember, Publix — eyeing its competitor Whole Foods and the organic giant’s highly successful connection to the growing market for sustainable food — recently launched a new line of groceries under its exclusive “GreenWise” label.

The GreenWise Fair Trade coffee label (pictured above), for example, extols the virtues of Fair Trade, saying, “Fair trade prices help small farmers provide employees with livable wages and work conditions. Which fosters the same values we do: community, well-being, and a nicer world.”

Sounds great, huh? If only there were some way Publix could apply those same principles to its Florida tomato supply chain and support a collaboration of farmworkers and tomato growers right here in Florida…

But while Whole Foods lost no time in addressing the contradiction between its socially conscious brand and the exploitation of farmworkers in Florida’s tomato fields — signing a Fair Food agreement with the CIW in 2008 — Publix stubbornly continues to reject participation in the rapidly expanding Campaign for Fair Food.

Which is why scores of protesters gathered at sunrise in Naples, Florida, at last Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony outside Publix’s newest store to prominently feature the “GreenWise” line. Among them was a sizable delegation of local clergy who personally delivered a truly persuasive letter to company leadership on-hand for the grand opening (right). The religious leaders’ missive — signed by eight Naples pastors hailing from eight different denominations, nearly all of whom lead congregations based no more than a few miles from the new Publix — expressed a shared hope that Publix swiftly start to join with the CIW to “make a powerful contribution toward ending the human rights crisis in Florida’s fields.” Read the full religious leaders’ letter here.

Publix, however, seems flummoxed by the very idea that marketing claims to social respsonsibility should be backed by purchasing policies consistent with those claims.

Indeed, news coverage of the protest made one thing perfectly clear: Publix’s PR department has no answer to the Campaign for Fair Food’s challenge to the company’s failure to meet its “GreenWise” marketing standards when it comes to its Florida tomato purchases. Instead, Publix spokesperson Shannon Patton was left with no choice but to recycle irrelevant sound bites from 2009. The spokesperson’s last resort — defense by non-sequitur.

Here’s an excerpt from the Naples Daily News story on last week’s protest (“Farmworkers protest new Publix seeking Fair Trade agreement,” 10/21/10):

“NAPLES — The Coalition of Immokalee Workers wants Publix to use the same ‘Fair Trade’ advertising campaign used for GreenWise coffee for the tomatoes picked by Immokalee farmworkers…

… Coalition members made note of Publix’s fair trade coffee label which says: “Fair trade prices help small farmers provide employees with livable wages and work conditions. Which fosters the same values we do: community, well-being, and a nicer world.”

Shannon Patten, a Publix spokeswoman, said: ‘This is a labor dispute and we have a practice of not intervening in labor disputes.’…

… Patten said Publix pays the market price for tomatoes and doesn’t set or negotiate prices for tomatoes which are set by the grower or packer.

But Jordan Buckley, staff member of Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida, said there is no labor dispute.

On Thursday, Immokalee-based Six L’s joined the Coalition’s Fair Food program.

Florida’s largest tomato grower has agreed to pass on the penny per pound and to adopt the code of conduct, including a cooperative complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process, according to the Coalition.

‘This makes it even easier for Publix to increase workers’ wages and protect human rights,’ Buckley said. read more

Fortunately, Publix customers seem to be way ahead of the Florida-based grocery giant, and it’s time for the company to catch up. From the same Naples Daily News article:

“… Publix shopper Joan Dunn saw the protest when she drove into the plaza Thursday morning.

Dunn said Publix should pay a penny more per pound.

‘It’s very hard to feed a family with farmworkers’ wages,’ Dunn, 75, of North Naples said. ‘They should get a decent wage like everyone else.’ read more

The protest coincided with Publix’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new store, and coverage of the ongoing double standard tarnished what was meant to be a feel-good marketing story. Here’s a link to a great Naples Daily News video report, and below is the coverage from the local FOX affiliate:


Stay tuned — this story is sure to gather traction in the months ahead if Publix doesn’t address the glaring contradiction between its high-end strategy for marketing coffee and old-school approach to purchasing tomatoes. In the words of the old proverb, “GreenWise, penny-per-pound foolish”…