On April 19th, FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez and staff attended British American Tobacco’s Annual General Meeting to share with the executive board and shareholders the human rights abuses occurring in their supply chain. President Velasquez asked BAT Chairman Luc Jobin during the meeting,
“How and when will BAT do a serious effort to engage and address the serious inequities in the workforce that comes to harvest and cultivate the tobacco in its supply chain?”
Mr. Jobin replied to Pres. Velasquez with a typical, corporate response reminding him of the Farm Labor Practices Group (FLPG), a group that the company created after pressure from FLOC and ally groups in 2012. BAT Chairman Luc Jobin invited FLOC to rejoin the FLPG as a response to our questioning at the meeting. The FLPG is nothing more than a front for BAT and other tobacco companies to pretend like they are engaging in a dialogue on human rights in the fields, while they consistently achieve nothing. After 8 years in the group, with no progress being made on the issue of guaranteeing the right to freedom of association of workers in the tobacco supply chain, or the broader issue of improving workers’ rights, FLOC left. We refused to legitimize a group that did nothing when we identified dozens of instances of grave human rights abuses and highlighted serious flaws with the tobacco procurement system that help perpetuate them. You can read Pres. Velasquez letter to the Farm Labor Practices Group when FLOC left here.
This response was not surprising, but once the meeting concluded Pres. Velasquez was able to pull Chairman Jobin to the side and bring more attention to these issues. Afterwards, FLOC was invited to meet privately with two BAT executives. Here, we detailed the struggle in North Carolina and throughout the tobacco fields in Southeastern United States, while giving our proposed solutions to creating a supply chain free from forced labor and exploitation. BAT agreed to speak with their American counterpart Reynolds American Tobacco and apply some pressure to come to an agreement with FLOC.
Throughout our trip to London, we had the support and attendance of a colleague from The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), which FLOC is affiliated with. The IUF has been critical in supporting FLOC and helping us coordinate actions and meetings globally.
Lastly, while in town we took the opportunity to meet with Unite the Union, the second largest union in the United Kingdom. Here we discussed our broader campaigns and what transnational labor solidarity between the two groups would look like. They agreed to aid us in applying pressure to British American Tobacco in the United Kingdom.
Our fight against British American Tobacco and their subsidiary Reynolds American Tobacco will take a global effort. BAT is the largest tobacco company in the world, earning over $30 million in revenue last year. As our campaign continues, we will need support from allies and supporters all over. Learn more how you can take action here.