a couple of years ago i read barry estabrook’s Gourmet magazine article addressing slavery and tomatoes in florida, “The Price of Tomatoes” (and wrote about it here). estabrook’s new book Tomatoland explores the issues even further. i’ve not gotten a chance to get the book, yet, but omar and i have listened to a couple of interviews with estabrook and the issue is still just as heartbreaking and overwhelming.
the day omar came home and told me that he heard an interview with estabrook i had just gotten home from buying a couple of tomatoes from Publix (southern supermarket chain). our csa season ended a few weeks ago and won’t start back up until october so for now we’re back in the world of supermarket produce. that night i was curious as to what Publix’s current response (if indeed there had been any) has been to the issues of slavery and poor working conditions in the tomato fields in florida.
i’ve known about CIW (Coalition of Immokalee Workers) since i read Not For Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It by David Batstone. the CIW site is a great place to get information on the anti-slavery work in florida. they also recently published Publix’s official response as to why it would not sign on to the Campaign for Fair Food. Publix’s response shocked me.
the issue of signing/not signing almost became a moot point to me for the moment. (i believe it is within the realm of possibility that a company can choose not to sign their name to a document and still behave socially and economically responsible.) but what Publix does is make themselves look foolish, ignorant, and uninformed (and this is after making such statements as this one by a Publix spokesman, “If there are some atrocities going on, it’s not our business…Maybe it’s something the government should get involved with.”)
click here to find the link to Publix’s letter and to read CIW’s excellent point-by-point response. the line that was the kicker for me was the following statement in regards to working conditions of their suppliers.
We are unaware of a single instance of slavery existing in our supply chain.
oh, Publix. it’s because of such statements that our family is considering not shopping at your stores anymore. the CIW has not called for an overall boycott of Publix, but these kind of statements by Publix are saddening. many, many people in florida are aware of the slavery situation in florida fields. stories have been in the media for years and years. putting your head in the sand only promotes what others are trying to defeat. you have chosen a business in food purchasing and distribution therefore i would hope and think you would make it your duty to be completely knowledgeable about all of the issues (even serious rumored issues) in your field. and in the world of farming and food, that includes slavery. perhaps Publix is trying to get off on a technicality here. in 2010 they stopped purchasing from two farms implicated in a slavery prosecution case (even though the case took place in 2008). so maybe right now they believe there is no slavery in their supply chain, but it does not appear that Publix has a system to even check this.
the world of boycotting is a complex one and ends up pushing you into calling into question many/all of the products and services you purchase in your home. we have not come to a decision on it, but we can’t treat this situation lightly.