Today, the issue is tomatoes. According to Publix, the only solution is through me — and other consumers.
I’m the grocery shopper in the family. I’m the one who winds through the aisles at Publix. I pick up the products, check their ingredients and choose the healthiest option. I’m the family member who compares brands for price and notes where the item was grown or packaged.
I do pay attention to how the food reaches the store before I put it in the cart. And, I’m not alone. Being a good grocer, so does Publix. Usually.
I no longer buy coffee. But, when I did, I looked for the “Fair Trade” label. Publix advertises they do the same. In their GreenWise Market Magazine they noted, “A Fair Trade Certified mark indicates that growers received a set minimum price for their coffee and were part of a co-op linked directly to importers, helping them hold on to more of the benefits of their labor.” Not all coffee at Publix is Fair Trade, but the company obviously finds it to their advantage to note their concern with the world’s coffee growers.
This week, I stood in front of the tomatoes at Publix and was concerned.
Florida tomatoes are a multimillion dollar business. Yet, the people who pick the tomatoes don’t make a living wage. Their back-breaking labor nets the average farmworker less than $12,000 a year. It’s not just about the cash. Other problems on Florida tomato farms are well-documented. In this decade, Florida farm employers have been charged with abuses from battery to slavery.
You would like to believe that the friendly associate-owned Publix must be a good steward, studying the abuses and combating them. Any corporation concerned with coffee growers must be using their multi-billion dollar weight to reward only ethical growers. Well, maybe not.
Certainly many such corporations as McDonalds, Taco Bell, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s throw around their weight. They’ve signed an agreement to only work with growers who follow a code of conduct that treats farmworkers humanely. They’ve even gone as far as paying a penny more per pound for tomatoes so that money goes to the farmworkers. Workers who earned $12,000 a year before the penny make about an extra $5,000 with it. Workers who felt threatened and were abused now have an organization who oversees conditions.
Sadly, Publix stands separate from these other corporations. They will not support the agreement between the farmworkers and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. They don’t feel it’s their place to throw around their weight. After all, this isn’t electricity.
Joining the agreement won’t affect the Publix bottom line. That penny per pound would certainly be passed to the consumer.
So, who does Publix believe must ensure ethical treatment of farmworkers? A Publix spokesperson was quoted that the onus is on the consumer, “customers will make their own purchasing decisions.”
This week, I stood in front of the tomatoes at Publix and was perplexed.
Lakelanders treat Publix differently than other corporations. Because George Jenkins moved the company here, we feel we own a piece of the company. Many of us, through our jobs, or because we’re the children of past employees, actually own Publix stock. In Lakeland, there are people who’ll update an old chestnut from America’s past: “What’s good for Publix is good for the country.” Would the farmworkers agree with that statement?
Publix, refusing to sign the agreement isn’t good for Florida farmworkers, tomato growers, you or the consumer. Your strength can make a major difference in the lives of thousands of people. Your strength is based on the power of your customers who purchase tomatoes at your stores.
This week, I stood in front of the tomatoes at Publix. I decided to wait until I go to the Farmers’ Market. Next week, I hope to see other consumers walk by the tomatoes at Publix without stopping.