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U.S. Workers Protest International Labor Rights Abuses at Mondelēz

Photo by Brandon Rees
Brandon Rees, acting director of the AFL-CIO Office of Investment, sends this report from today’s shareholder meeting of Mondelēz International (formerly Kraft Foods) near Chicago.

At today’s Mondelēz International's shareholder meeting, the IUF, the international union body representing food workers worldwide, and unions representing the company’s North American employees, raised concerns about human rights abuses in the company’s overseas operations. Many Mondelēz-branded cookies and crackers are produced by union members, including Oreo, Chips Ahoy, Ritz and Triscuit.

In North America, some 3,500 Mondelēz International workers are represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM), which is a member of IUF. BCTGM locals 1 and 300 represent nearly 1,000 workers in the Chicago area.

The IUF has launched a worldwide Screamdelez campaign to hold Mondelēz International accountable to international human rights standards. Ron Oswald, general secretary of the IUF, spoke directly to shareholders because Mondelēz International corporate management has so far refused to acknowledge evidence of these abuses:

In both Tunisia and Egypt, Mondelēz has attempted to squash independent and democratic union representation by firing union leaders. It has refused to bargain in good faith with its workers. These workers are seeking the same universal human rights that employees of Mondelēz have elsewhere, including here in the United States.

BCTGM Local 1 Secretary-Treasurer John Howard expressed solidarity with workers in Tunisia and Egypt who have faced termination for exercising their right to join a union:

Mondelēz ought to be a leader in countries like Egypt, where people have risked their lives for democracy. In a democracy, companies respect the rights of their employees to form a union and have a voice in their workplace.

In Egypt, workers at the Cadbury Alexandria plant were inspired by the promise of a new era of democracy to found an independent trade union last year. Management refused to recognize their union and eventually arbitrarily fired the five founding union leaders. In Tunisia—the country that launched the “Arab spring” fight for democracy and human rights—two union leaders also were terminated from SOTUBI, where Mondelēz International products are manufactured.

At the meeting, other shareholders, including Oxfam America, Domini Social Investments and As You Sow, raised concerns about sustainable business practices, including gender equality in Mondelēz International’s supply chain and protecting the environment. Outside the meeting, union members holding banners and passing out leaflets brought attention to the human rights concerns being raised inside the meeting.

It remains to be seen whether Mondelēz International will respond to the IUF’s request to dialogue.

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