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Hopeful news from the farmworker community

It looks incremental, but it’s progress…

For Immediate Release
April 25, 2012

Contact: Justin Flores, FLOC Director of Programs Office: 919-731-4433; Cell: 704-577-3480

MAJOR TOBACCO COMPANIES AGREE TO MEET WITH FLOC TO DISCUSS FARMWORKERS’ RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION: Group Includes Reynolds American, Inc.

In a landmark breakthrough, several of the largest tobacco companies have agreed to designate a committee made up of representatives of tobacco manufacturers, tobacco growers, and farmworkers. FLOC will represent the workers, the North Carolina Grower’s Association will represent the growers and Altria will represent Altria/Philip Morris USA, Reynolds American and Philip Morris International.   The committee is charged with organizing a meeting to discuss the issue of freedom of association without fear of retaliation, wages, housing and forced labor, among other supply chain inequities. The meeting was organized by the Keystone Group, a professional facilitating organization, at the request of the tobacco companies.

The meeting comes after four and a half years of pressure on Reynolds American to meet with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO (FLOC), a union representing thousands of farmworkers throughout the Midwest and South. In 2007 FLOC requested a meeting with the company to discuss problems at the bottom of the tobacco supply chain including sub minimum wages, child labor, heat stroke, pesticide and nicotine poisoning, green tobacco sickness, lack of water and breaks during work, and fatalities.  Reynolds refused to meet, claiming that because they do not employ farmworkers directly, they had no responsibility to be a part of the solution to these problems.

With support from local and national churches, universities, labor unions, and community supporters, FLOC launched a public campaign calling on Reynolds to meet with the farmworkers who harvest their tobacco. In 2011, a joint FLOC/Oxfam American report, which documented the severe and widespread human rights abuses in NC tobacco fields, called for the creation of an “Industry Council,” comprised of tobacco manufacturers, growers, and farmworker representatives.

For FLOC, the issue remains whether Reynolds will actually implement any agreed to measures.  “We will continue to press each of the companies to meet with FLOC individually,” said FLOC Founder and President Baldemar Velasquez after a closed meeting.  “This effort is not about meeting to just talk,  this campaign will continue until Reynolds comes to an agreement with FLOC guaranteeing the right to freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively for all farmworkers in their supply chain.”

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