“Here today, we are a river…”

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CIW, allies deliver 360,000+ signatures from Walk Free petition to Publix Headquarters in Lakeland!


Yesterday morning, CIW Fair Food Program education teams fanned out to several farms in the Central Florida region to hold training sessions with farmworkers on their rights and responsibilities under the Fair Food Code of Conduct, including the right to work free from forced labor. The education sessions, held on the farm and on the clock, form the foundation of the Fair Food Program’s unparalleled monitoring and enforcement mechanisms that are transforming the Florida tomato industry into one of “the most progressive groups in the fruit and vegetable industry” today.  Indeed, the hard, day-to-day work on the ground of the CIW’s education teams and the Fair Food Standards Council, the third-party monitor that oversees compliance on participating farms, has caught the attention of human rights observers around the globe.  Here is how the Program is described on the United Nations Global Compact website:


Through a unique collaboration among workers, growers and retailers, the FFP is eliminating forced labor and other human rights abuses, and demonstrating that an entire industry, from top to bottom, can benefit from a system that demands verifiable accountability and respects the rights and concerns of all of its participants.

And so it was with great pride in their work and hope for a new day in their relationship with Florida’s largest grower that, after wrapping up the morning education sessions, the CIW teams reconvened outside Publix’s corporate headquarters in Lakeland for a noontime gathering with local allies.  Putting on their Campaign for Fair Food hats (literally and figuratively), they were ready for part two of their busy day: Delivering over 360,00 signatures in support of Walk Free’s call for Publix to join the Fair Food Program and help advance the human rights of the workers who pick their tomatoes (pictured below is a 15 ft. scroll bearing a mere 10% of those signatures).   


As the workers and allies approached the front gates of Publix headquarters (where CIW members have now stood many times — fasting or rallying following long marches), the group stopped for a few moments to reflect on why they were there on this particular day. The CIW’s Lupe Gonzalo set the stage:

The education teams just came from the tomato fields. The women there no longer have to leave their dignity in the tomato rows in exchange for work. Now, with the backing of the Fair Food Program, they are winning respect in the fields, earning a better wage, and they can report abuse without fear of losing their job. This petition of hundreds of thousands of signatures affirms the change and respect that we have earned.

Fellow CIW member Nely Rodriguez added, after surveying the number of police waiting at Publix’s gates (pictured below):


“It truly is a shame that, even while there are 11 other corporations helping us enter the fields to do education, supporting these changes for workers, there are other companies — like Publix — who hire police to watch us, as if we are criminals. The companies that have already signed Fair Food Agreements recognize the value of the Fair Food Program for all of us, consumers, buyers, growers, and farmworkers alike.  And they aren’t even from Florida, like Publix is.”

Sadly, it was clear from the moment of their arrival that the petition delivery would not be received with any new spirit of dialogue, nor even the temporary reprieve from hostilities to honor the holiday season that occasionally occurs even in battle, but with the same dismissive defensiveness that has been the hallmark of Publix’s response to the Fair Food Program for years.

What was surprising this time, however — even to CIW members who are longtime veterans of Publix’s indifference — was the disturbingly raw antagonism displayed on behalf of the company by Mark Codd, Publix’s Director of Labor Relations.  [Faithful readers of this site might remember Mr. Codd from the incident a little over a year ago in which police were called in response to the “threat” of a pastor wearing a CIW t-shirt inside a Publix store in Sarasota.  The pastor was banned from the store for one year, leading to a series of protests and negative press coverage in the Sarasota area.]

Following a brief discussion with Mr. Codd, the delegation returned to the larger group of workers and allies to report on their exchange. Standing with her children, Lupe Gonzalo (pictured below) told those gathered:

They [Publix] kept interrupting us, repeating over and over: ‘Where did slavery happen? On what farm were women raped? Tell me a name, tell me a name!’ as if the abuse of women in the fields was something we invented out of thin air.  And I told them, you know, if you actually were in a dialogue with us, we could sit down and really talk through all of the problems and how to fix them.   That’s what we do with our partners in our program, and that’s what we want to do with Publix.


Andy Crossfield (pictured below), President of the Lakeland Democratic Club, brought back another powerful message from the delegation:

“I asked one Publix executive if he went to church, and he said yes. I asked, ‘What kind of church could ever justify Publix’s refusal to sign something so simple that can have such a profound impact on people’s lives?’ He said it was his job. I said he needed a new job. It must hurt his heart to do this to people. I just can’t understand it.”


Before wrapping up the petition delivery visit, the Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin, a retired United Methodist minister, helped us close with a prayer, saying:

“We are so grateful to be  here with farmworkers, to be working with them — because we know that God is always on the side of workers and all those who fight for justice.”

The CIW’s Gerardo Reyes Chavez sent the delegation home, and into the Thanksgiving holiday, on a hopeful note:


“The White House has recognized our efforts to end slavery. The Roosevelt Institute has recognized the progress we’ve made in this struggle. And the over 300,000 people who have signed this petition are behind us. And this support is only going to keep growing. I have no doubt that we’re going to win. They say that even the smallest drop can penetrate a boulder — and here today, we are a river.”

And on that note we wish everyone in the Fair Food Nation a happy and safe Thanksgiving.  See you right back here after the holiday with more from the Campaign for Fair Food (including, perhaps, a closer look at what appears to be Publix’s new, more aggressive posture…).