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Why people are marching today in Winston-Salem

Shareholders for the giant, Winston-Salem-based tobacco conglomerate, Reynolds American are meeting today and hundreds of farmworker advocates are expected to be there with them. The action is being organized by FLOC, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. This is from a media statement the group released earlier this week:

(Winston-Salem, NC) Hundreds of people are expected to join the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO (FLOC) for a rally and march at Reynolds American’s shareholders meeting in support of FLOC’s campaign for justice for migrant tobacco farmworkers.  In response to increasing public pressure due to the FLOC’s exposure ofthe abuses that immigrant farmworkers face in their supply chain, Reynolds American has recently adopted a statement in support of human rights, claiming that “respect for universally recognized human rights is a day-to-day practice that is integral” to how they conduct business with those in their “sphere of influence.”  Yet, the reality in the tobacco fields of North Carolina tells a different story.

Prominent local religious leaders visited farmworkers in tobacco fields and saw conditions first hand.  “We learned that they live in places most of us thought uninhabitable, work in dangerous conditions, suffer regular violations of their human rights, and face harsh and oppressive treatment by their superiors and the broader American society. Speaking with many of these migrant workers gave us a window into a world that is hidden from sight and appalling in every way.  As a corporation with as much wealth and resources that remains profitable because of the work taking place on such farms, we hoped Reynolds would take a lead in alleviating these conditions.”  Yet, for three years, Reynolds CEO Susan Ivey has refused to even meet with these workers.

On Friday, May 7, at Reynolds’ Annual Shareholders Meeting, local, state and national figures will come together to demand that Reynolds do more than adopt meaningless rhetoric to put an end the exploitation of tobacco farmworkers.

Local faith leaders will release a public statement challenging Reynolds’ claims of human rights practices. Additionally, shareholders will vote on a resolution calling on Reynolds to take a proactive role in protecting farmworkers’ basic human rights, one which Reynolds executives recommended against adopting.

Who:    National, state and local clergy, labor leaders, farmworkers, and allies

When:  12:00pm Friday, May 7, 2010 Rally followed by March

Where:  Intersection of 4th Street and Trade Street, Winston-Salem, NC

What:    Rally and march to demand that Reynolds meet with FLOC and truly respect human rights within their “sphere of influence.”

                        For background on FLOC’s Campaign, visit: www.floc.com

Advocates will begin gathering this morning at 10:30 at Lloyd Presbyterian Church at 748 N. Chestnut Street in Winston-Salem.

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