Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Is Kroger A Responsible Corporate Citizen?

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) "is a community-based organization of mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida." For the past decade, it has been working with (and sometimes against) large purchasers of produce to adopt standards to ensure that farm workers are treated humanely and paid something approaching a fair wage. (See this Wikipedia entry.)

It turns out that some of the worst working conditions in the US are found on tomato farms throughout Florida. Things are so bad that a couple years ago, two farm overseers were convicted on federal slavery charges. One of the farms that utilized slave labor was Pacific Tomato Growers. (Keep track of that name.)

In the past few years, several major companies have changed their tomato-purchasing practices in response to pressure from CIW. Those companies, which include Chipotle, Taco Bell, McDonald's, Burger King, and Whole Food Market, have adopted the "penny-per-pound" initiative, through which tomato pickers' wages are increased by one penny per pound of tomatoes picked.

Enter Cincinnati-based Kroger, the nation's largest grocery chain. CIW has been seeking cooperation from Kroger in improving the conditions under which tomato pickers are forced to work. So far, Kroger has been resistant to the effort. The company seems almost intentionally oblivious to the plight of those who pick its produce--so much so that, as it turns out, Kroger sells tomatoes grown by Pacific Tomato Growers. Yep, that's the same farm we told you to remember two paragraphs ago.

Other companies have managed to stay profitable while supporting the dignity and human rights of those who pick the produce they sell. Why can't Kroger follow suit? And do we Cincinnatians have a special obligation to pressure our hometown grocer to do the right thing?

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