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CIW Tomato Worker Protests Continue

IMMOKALEE, Fla. — The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has been stepping up its Campaign for Fair Food protests against Publix Super Markets, Ahold USA, Kroger Co. and Trader Joe's.

The goals of the CIW's campaign include having retailers pay a penny more a pound to growers for tomatoes using third-party auditing, sign a code of conduct that includes a zero tolerance for slavery, and allow tomato farm workers to participate in monitoring these agreements, said Jordan Buckley, a staff member at Interfaith Action, partner organization to the CIW.

In March and April the CIW and its partner organizations demonstrated at a Giant Food in Washington, owned by Ahold, and at Publix locations in Tennessee and Florida. These protests followed the late winter protests up the East Coast.

Retailers have released different statements and arguments in response to the CIW, but all have refused to negotiate prices or policies through a third party.

Based out of Lakeland, Fla., Publix has been the focus of several recent demonstrations, with the CIW and its partners picketing Publix's Nashville, Tenn., location on March 26, its Naples, Fla., location on March 31, and outside the Publix Lakeland shareholder meeting on April 12. In addition, the Orlando Sentinel reported the group led a three-day march from Tampa to Lakeland in mid-April. At the time of publication, the CIW planned to hold a May 1 protest in Miami.

Publix has said it would pay a penny more a pound to their growers or even more, but not through third-party contracts.

“We continue to say, we are more than willing to pay the penny a pound, but we are not going to pay a penny a pound to a third party,” said Maria Brous, director of media and community relations at Publix.

Both the CIW and Publix have accused the other of changing messages.

Trader Joe's also made clear that it doesn't work with third parties. The retailer also wrote in a note to customers on its website, “All of the tomato growers in Florida that supply Trader Joe's Florida are signed on with and abide by a CIW-designated code of conduct.”

As reported in February by SN, Ahold said it spoke with the CIW and stopped buying Immokalee region tomatoes for most of 2010 while a team of experts investigated. Now, Suzi Robinson, manager of public and community relations at Ahold, said the retailer only buys from Florida growers who comply with Ahold's standards, which include a commitment to human rights.

Like Publix and Trader Joe's, Robinson said, “Ahold and Stop & Shop cannot agree to contribute to CIW's penny-a-pound initiative; it is not our place to enter into direct wage negotiations with employees of our suppliers.”

In a website post last month, the CIW denied any ongoing dialogue with Ahold and alleged Ahold's standards “reaffirm compliance with existing legal norms and protections.”

In addition to onsite picketing, the CIW and its partner organizations are running an ongoing postcard, email and manager letter campaign against the grocers.

Although the CIW has led its supermarket campaign for over the past two years, the group has recently stepped up its efforts. This fall, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange made an agreement with CIW, and several major companies, including McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell and Aramark, worked out agreements from 2007 to 2010. To date, Whole Foods Market is the only supermarket chain that has met the CIW's demands. Just Harvest USA, a CIW partner, has organized multi-city protests at 22 Trader Joe's locations from April 27 to May 1.