After more than four years of pressure from the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and other worker advocates, several of the largest tobacco companies, tobacco growers and workers are close to sitting down to discuss the issues of freedom of association without fear of retaliation, wages, housing, forced labor, job safety and other issues.
The companies, including Reynolds American, have agreed to be part of a committee charged with setting up the landmark meeting. FLOC will represent the workers, the North Carolina Growers Association will represent the growers and Altria will represent Altria/Philip Morris USA, Reynolds American and Philip Morris International.
FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez says, “This effort is not about meeting to just talk,” and the issue remains whether Reynolds will actually implement any agreed-to measures.
For more than four years, FLOC members and supporters across the country have demanded that Reynolds, North Carolina's largest tobacco manufacturer, begins to address human rights abuses at the bottom of its supply chain.
FLOC says those abuses include sub-minimum wages, child labor, heat stroke, pesticide and nicotine poisoning, green tobacco sickness, lack of water and breaks during work and worker fatalities. Reynolds refused to meet, claiming that because it does not employ farm workers directly, it has no responsibility to be a part of the solution to these problems.
Velasquez says the campaign to protect the tobacco farm workers and their rights will continue,
until Reynolds comes to an agreement with FLOC guaranteeing the right to freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively for all farm workers in their supply chain.
On May 3, FLOC and supporters will march on Reynolds' annual stockholders meeting in Winston-Salem. Click here to find out more.