The 2008 UUA General Assembly passed an Action of Immediate Witness entitled, “End Present-Day Slavery in the Fields.” This Action urges UU congregations “to work with the CIW in calling upon restaurant and grocery corporations to end slavery and sweatshops in the fields.”Yum Brands (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC), McDonalds, Burger King, Subway and Whole Foods are all working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to improve wages and conditions of tomato pickers.  on Sunday we will join in signing postcards to call on leaders of Publix to do the same.

I have yet to hear a peep from any representative from Publix in response to the letter I sent posted below.  I love my local Publix and my reusable Publix grocery bags.  I enjoy connecting with the friendly folks at check-out, bagging, or cart-stacking.  I love the Green Initiative.  But tomatoes from Publix may have been picked by the hands of an enslaved brother or sister. This is I do not love.  This real possibility is most disturbing.  My hope is that the added positive expectations and pressures we put on Publix will encourage them to contact the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and take a stand for fair food in Florida and on our grocery shelves.  See the following letter I sent:

June 11, 2009

Mr. Ed Crenshaw, CEO
Publix Supermarkets Corporate Office
PO Box 401
Lakeland, FL  33802-0407

Dear Mr. Crenshaw,

As a board member of Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida and as a person of faith, I ask for you and your constituents to reconsider your silence and lack of accountability in the larger systems of agricultural industry that affect day-to-day lives of Florida farm workers and their families.

As the Chief Executive Officer of a large corporation you have the opportunity to set a precedent by calling for an end to the human rights abuses and sub-poverty wages faced by workers who pick the tomatoes sold in your stores.  Departed are the days when we could not point fingers at others and abdicate responsibility.  As many political critics remind us, we cannot rely on the government to do everything for us.  That includes taking a stand against injustice in Florida’s tomato fields.  Publix continues to purchase tomatoes from both Pacific Tomato Growers and Six L’s, despite the fact that workers who worked on those farms have been held against their will.

I am asking you to truly fulfill your mission.  In 2001 Publix began a Green Routine initiative.  Your website declares: “Sustainability means balancing the needs of humanity with the needs of the living earth.”  Taking a hands-off approach in the issue of modern day slavery in Florida fields is anathema to your Sustainability Initiative.  Publix Corporation’s silence dishonors the needs of humanity.  A basic need of humanity is freely chosen, dignified work with a living wage.  Sustainability of our planet depends on the stewardship of human dignity and freedom.  I applaud your green efforts.  Don’t diminish these efforts by denying the power you have to call Six L’s and Pacific to account for injustices that happen in their tomato fields.

Sincerely yours,

Rev. Allison Farnum