Take Action: Demand Fair Food from Publix
Are your tomatoes picked by slaves?
Since 1997, more than 1000 farmworkers have been freed from slavery in Florida. And by slavery, we mean not getting paid, being kept against one’s will, and in some cases even being chained at night. In other words—slavery. In twenty-first century America. And these 1000 workers are just the tip of the iceberg. One U.S. attorney has called Florida “ground zero” in the fight against slavery in the United States.
Even for the tens of thousands of tomato pickers who do get paid for their efforts, most don’t even earn minimum wage. Workers handle harsh pesticides, which have been shown to cause cancer, birth defects, and other health problems. Reports of sexual assault are rampant. Slavery is the extreme result of an unethical, underpaid workplace for tomato pickers.
But these workers are fighting hard to change this reality. Through the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), they have persuaded some major fast food restaurants and produce growers to pay a penny more a pound and to institute a zero tolerance policy for slavery and sexual assault. Corporations such as Yum Brands (Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut), Burger King, McDonald's, Whole Foods, and most recently Trader Joe's have agreed to sign the Campaign for Fair Food. In the fall of 2010, most of Florida's tomato growers agreed to raise the price they paid to workers by one penny a pound if the retailers agree to pay this penny and to also implement an code of conduct in the fields. But Publix has not yet agreed to the sign the CIW's Fair Food Campaign, even famously saying: "If there are atrocities going on, it's not our business."
Every year, at Passover, we remember the Jewish experience of slavery. We say: “We were slaves to Pharaoh, now we are free.” This legacy informs our moral imperative to fight modern slavery and uphold the right of every individual to be free.
Publix founder George Jenkins used to say, “Don't let making a profit get in the way of doing the right thing.” It is time that his successors understand that lesson. Publix is based in Florida. The farmworkers who pick Publix's tomatoes don't live thousands of miles away, but in Publix's own (broadly speaking) community. Today, we must raise our voices together with that of the farmworkers and demand that Publix support the Campaign for Fair Food.