On Friday March 1st, 2013 a group of UNC and NC State students, along with union leaders and community leaders visited The Pantry Inc, (parent company of Kangroo) headquarters to express their concerns about human rights violations of tobacco farmworkers in North Carolina and the South. Madeline Miller and Catherine Crowe, both students at UNC-CH and members of Alianza, a farmworker support group, led the crowd. Last year, Alianza wrote a letter to The Pantry which, to date, has been ignored by the company. The students explained to the Pantry representative who greeted the group that they had personally been to the fields to see where farmworkers were working and living.
Miller explained, “their homes are just cement barrack style, there are no divisions between toilets, and they are preserved under unsanitary conditions. You or anyone from The Pantry would not live in a similar setting if you had the choice.”
The representative from the Pantry responded by saying that they had done all they could do, having facilitated a meeting between Reynolds American and FLOC. The rest was up to tobacco suppliers and cigarette manufacturers.
Consumers know the company can do more. “Many companies have looked at their supply chains and have taken steps to clean them up, are you willing to do the same?” said Matt Hickson from the North Carolina Student Power Union. To everyone’s disappointment, The Pantry representative responded saying there was nothing else he could do. Dave Austin, a member of the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, invited the Pantry executives to visit the fields this summer. “We would like you to come and visit the fields, see the conditions that human beings are being forced to live through.”
But the answer from The Pantry remained the same.
“We are your customers, we come to your stores, we enjoy your Roo Cups, and as customers we are leaving today unsatisfied” said Ana Maria Reichenbach, organizer with FLOC.
The reality is that Kangaroo Express has reported that around 39% of their sales come from Tobacco products. This makes them complicit in a supply chain that perpetuates worker exploitation and does not give workers the right to organize and fight for fair working conditions. Though they have helped start conversations between Reynolds and FLOC no agreement guaranteeing worker rights has been signed at the start of the 2013 season.
“We would like to keep communicating with us and you will be hearing from us soon” said Crowe.