Once again, an esteemed colleague says what I feel, elegantly.  And so I share with you the words from the Rev. Jim Boler, United Church of Christ minister (retired), who served on the staff of the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ for 16 years. He was then an associate minister at Sanibel Congregational UCC before retiring in January. He serves with me on the Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida Board.
(Original source here)

Oct 27, 2009 News-Press

Rev. Jim Boler: Publix involved in tomato-pickers fate, like it or not

On Oct. 18, farmworkers and their allies held a vigil on the steps of the Federal Courthouse in downtown Fort Myers.  This is the site of the slavery case following the January 2008 federal grand jury indictment of six people in Immokalee for their part in what U.S. Attorney Doug Molloy called “slavery, plain and simple.” The employers were charged with beating workers who were unwilling to work or who attempted to leave their employ picking tomatoes, holding their workers in debt, and chaining and locking workers inside box trucks in the middle of Immokalee as punishment.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers participated in this and five other similar cases resulting in convictions involving more than 1,000 farmworkers held as slaves. The CIW works to ensure human rights and fair wages for those who harvest the tomatoes we consume. Last month Compass Group (the leading contract food service company in North America) and East Coast Growers and Packers (the third largest tomato grower in Florida) announced their groundbreaking agreement to implement the CIW’s Fair Food principles this coming tomato harvesting season. Other agreements have previously been reached with socially conscious corporations including Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Burger King, Whole Foods and Subway. Two other tomato growers (Alderman Farms and Ladymoon Farms) have agreed to implement Fair Food principles.

But Publix has refused to participate and is, as of this writing, continuing to purchase and sell tomatoes harvested at two area farms corrupted by this latest slavery conviction. Because of that we were at the courthouse vigil, then walked a short distance and continued a candlelight vigil at the First Street Village Publix on McGregor Boulevard. This is the Publix that received a $50,000-per-month rent subsidy from Fort Myers. Having received community support Publix must now support the farmworkers of this community.

Maria Brous, a Publix spokeswoman, is quoted as saying, “Our official position is we don’t get involved in the middle of labor disputes between our suppliers and other organizations.”

Well, Ms. Brous, Publix is already involved. I agree with Publix when it says that with more than 35,000 products it can’t get involved in all disputes with suppliers. Nor should they. But this is not just a labor dispute; this involves human rights.

How many of Publix’s suppliers are involved in actual convictions for slavery? I assume not too many. When Publix knowingly purchases tomatoes from fields tainted by the sweat of slaves (not just worker and human rights abuse but actual slavery convictions) Publix is involved in that “dispute” on the side of injustice and immorality.

In 1776 Adam Smith’s famous “Wealth of Nations,” advocating a free market economy, was published. But, before that, in 1759, Adam Smith’s “Theory of Moral Sentiments” was published, the book he considered as his “foundational” work. He said economics is not “amoral.” Any civilized social system (economic or otherwise) makes moral judgments and has moral consequences. Economics, wrote Smith, needs a moral base, which the free market does not provide.

Come on, Publix; you are much better than this. Until now your reputation has been exemplary. In this “labor dispute” moral principles should trump Publix’s company policy. Now I read that a Publix worker, claiming to be making an independent documentary, filmed our peaceful, nonviolent protests. This is a new low for Publix. Meet with the CIW. As a loyal Publix customer I expect nothing less.