In October 2015, 8 tobacco farm workers decided to speak out against pervasive wage theft and intimidation on their farm in Newton Grove, NC where they were employed through the Farm Labor Contractor Jr. Perez. After the workers spoke to auditors from the tobacco company Philip Morris International (PMI) as well as the US Department of Labor about the issues and saw no results, they collaborated with FLOC to stage a work stoppage to recover their stolen wages. The workers were then retaliated against and blacklisted by Jr. Perez, who continues to deny them employment.
PMI boasts having higher labor standards than most tobacco companies including freedom of association and collective bargaining rights for workers in their supply chain, but when FLOC has pressed them on how these standards apply to real life situations, they are silent. To date, PMI has not informed FLOC of any actions taken to protect and defend the 8 workers who risked their livelihoods to fix inequities in PMI’s supply chain.
“Scripture instructs us in 1 John 3:18, ‘…not in word or speech, but in truth and action.’ This is what we Faith Leaders from different traditions in New York City have and are asking of PMI and their suppliers. Not merely to write an ALP [Agricultural Labor Practices Code] but to have it placed into action so that unethical Farm Labor Contractors like Jr. Perez will be unable to blacklist individuals.”– Reverend Luis-Alfredo Cartagena
On May 3, 2017 during PMI’s shareholders meeting in New York, President Velasquez and New York religious leaders questioned PMI on their lack of response to the blacklisting of the 8 FLOC members. They also presented a resolution that would allow PMI to fix systemic issues in their supply chain and empower more workers to come out of the shadows.
“None of the steps PMI has taken constitute an independent grievance mechanism. They are all paid for and financed by PMI. FLOC has continuously shown that corporate funded grievances mechanisms don’t work; we need an independent process for workers to report and resolve issues like wage theft, intimidation, retaliation, and child labor.” – President Velasquez
In response, PMI Chairman Camilleri stated that they would work with both the Farm Labor Practices Group as well as FLOC to create a proper grievance mechanism that would transform their written policies into real tools that workers can use to correct labor violations. PMI needs to act fast, not just for the 8 workers blacklisted by Jr. Perez, but for all farmworkers who face human rights abuses but are silenced by the threat of retaliation.