Lakeland, Florida -- On Saturday, March 16, hundreds of farmworkers from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and their consumer allies from across the Southeastern U.S. marched into Lakeland as part of a two-week, 200-mile trek to Publix corporate headquarters.
On Sunday, the marchers' numbers will grow with the arrival of hundreds of more consumers from across the state of Florida for a huge rally outside Publix corporate headquarters in Lakeland.
Marchers are calling on the Florida-based grocery giant to honor the breakthrough social responsibility partnership for farm labor reform known as the Fair Food Program (FFP).
The FFP brings together farmworkers, growers, consumers, and eleven multi-billion dollar retail food leaders in support of fair wages and humane labor standards for tomato harvesters. Publix, one of the largest purchasers of Florida tomatoes, refuses to support the program and continues to buy tomatoes from the handful of Florida growers where workers are denied access to the FFP's higher standards, complaint mechanism, and "penny-per-pound" bonus.
On Sunday, the marchers and their consumer allies will join in a rally outside Publix's headquarters with music, speeches, and a unique theater piece performed by workers from Immokalee starting at 4 pm.
"After decades of what Edward R. Murrow called the 'Harvest of Shame,' the Fair Food Program is something the Florida tomato industry, something all of us can all be proud of -- labor rights advances that are setting the bar for social responsibility in the US produce industry today," said Gerardo Reyes of the CIW. "But while the changes we are seeing in farmworkers' lives today are indeed unprecedented, there is still much to be done. With each new corporation that joins, the wage increases and labor reforms grow and deepen, which is why Publix's decision to turn its back on the FFP is so unconscionable. Its support, which would cost Publix little, could significantly change the lives of some of the state's hardest workers, yet the $28 billion company won't even show farmworkers the respect of granting us a meeting to discuss the Fair Food Program face-to-face."