Concerned Kangaroo customers confront company leaders at shareholders meeting

Pantry, Inc. Leadership Re-commits to Communicate Customer Concerns to Reynolds American

Tobacco farmworkers’ rights dominated the discussion at the 2014 Pantry, Inc. shareholders meeting last week in Raleigh, NC. The Pantry, Inc. the owns Kangaroo, the largest convenience store chain in the Southeast. More than 25 concerned customers attended the meeting to ask company leaders why they hadn’t responded to their letters.

The buzz after the meeting was mostly about the election of directors, after three of the Pantry’s current directors were ousted by new directors from a group calling themselves “Concerned Pantry Shareholders.” But inside the meeting, customers and shareholders concerned with the human rights violations in Southern tobacco fields took over the meeting with questions for Pantry leadership.

Several people noted that letters had been sent to Pantry directors and received no reply, and neither did a 2012 letter from a coalition of concerned customers requesting a meeting with the company.

Pantry, Inc. CEO Dennis Hatchell confirmed that that company had communicated its customers concerns to Reynolds American several times. “We spend time communicating with the tobacco manufacturers about the concerns that have been raised, and have delivered may of the documents that customers have given us in the past two years.”

Customers pushed back, saying that although Kangaroo has communicated with Reynolds American, Reynolds has yet to sign an agreement guaranteeing freedom of association to farmworkers in its supply chain. “We want to know if you will commit to contacting Reynolds again and get an update about the concerns of your consumers,” said one shareholder. Hatchell confirmed that the company would continue communicating with Reynolds, and would keep the coalition of concerned customers better informed on their efforts.

However, no one from the company’s leadership would commit to meeting directly with customers or visiting the tobacco fields with FLOC, the farmworkers’ union, to see the abusive conditions firsthand. Several shareholders requested a face to face meeting, as they have been requesting since 2011, but Hatchell wouldn’t commit and only replied that all requests must once again be submitted in writing to their general counsel.

A resolution was also presented which would require the Pantry to implement a human rights risk assessment to identify and analyze potential and actual human rights risks of The Pantry’s products, operations and supply chain, and provide the findings of the assessment to its shareholders. The resolution failed, but did receive an impressive 33% “yes” votes from shareholders.

Following the meeting, customers pledged to continue contacting Pantry leadership to set up a meeting, and ensure that the company honors its promise to talk with Reynolds about their concerns. “We are really encouraged by what we heard from the company today, and we hope they will take our concerns seriously by meeting with us to learn more about conditions in the tobacco fields, and why their company must pay attention to the human rights situation surrounding the production of tobacco, which bring in over 30% of the company’s revenues,” commented Wesley Morris, a Kangaroo customer from the Beloved Community Center, who is leading the coalition of concerned customers.

Be sure to check out the report back from National Farm Worker Ministry as well!