June 3, 2015 – FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez and FLOC delegates participated in the “Hasta La Victoria!” conference on “Farmworker Justice in Global Supply Chains” which was hosted by the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF). During the conference Pres. Velasquez reminded the people in the room that “Farmworkers do not need charity, and these organizations that are willing to take money from the tobacco companies are only hurting the possibility of self-determination in NC tobacco fields.” Present at the conference was Tobacco and Allied Workers Union of Malawi (TOAWUM) Secretary General Raphael Sandramu, who was surprised to learn that tobacco workers in the US are suffering similar conditions to the ones in Malawi. Raphael Sandramu grew up in a farming family and founded TOAWUM to combat the tobacco tenancy system prevalent in Malawi that locks tobacco farmers into general systems of poverty and debt bondage. President Velasquez expressed solidarity towards the Malawi workers and stated that “…this is no longer just an issue in the US, this is a global issue and we need to unite if the tobacco companies are going to make any changes. We have decided to up the ante and instead of just signing an agreement with FLOC guaranteeing Freedom of Association, we want tobacco companies to sign an international agreement guaranteeing freedom of association for workers all over the world where they buy tobacco.”
After the conference, the ILRF hosted the Labor Rights Defenders Awards ceremony. At the ceremony Pres. Velasquez and FLOC received the Labor Rights Defender Award for the grassroots organizing done in US tobacco farms and the long term commitment to continue to organize workers to stand up for their rights, and speak up against the injustices on NC tobacco farms. Raphael Sandramu was awarded the Labor Rights Defender Award for International Grassroots Organizing. Sen. Sherrod Brown was awarded the Visionary Leadership Award.
In support of the FLOC campaign, ILRF has sponsored a petition to Reynolds American, demanding that they sign an agreement with FLOC guaranteeing labor rights in their supply chain.