By Doug Cunningham, May 18, 2016
The Farm Labor Organizing Committee says the tobacco industry is turning a blind eye to child labor and dangerous working conditions in America's tobacco fields. FLOC protested at the Reynolds American shareholder's meeting earlier this month in Winston-Salem, North Carolina demanding that Reynolds American humanize these working conditions and give workers a voice on the job. FLOC's Justin Flores
[Justin Flores]: "For eight years we've been trin' to get Reynolds American to guarantee labor rights in their supply chain, And they've up until now refused. They've had a lot of different, fancy ways of denying the problem, sweeping things under the rug. But the truth is coming out.
They've just released an audit, not a good audit, They weren't really looking into their supply chain, But even with the lacking , we don't have all the responsibility and we need others to audit that they did they found child labor, wage theft, housing violations, you name it."
Flores says the Farm Labor Organizing Committee's persistent campaign to get Reynolds American to take some responsibility for the conditions workers in their supply are subjected is beginning to make progress.
[Justine Flores]: "Their PR has evolved over the years as our campaign has exposed it. They used to say flat out, not our employees, not our problem. After five years of campaigning they sort of come around to saying that they do have some responsibility in the supply chain, but everything's just fine and there's no problem.
Then they evolved to saying well, we do have some responsibility, we don't have all the responsibility so we need people to do things to make sure that there are no violations in the supply chain. Now they're sort of at a place where they're saying we're gonna donate to charity, we're gonna have some charity programs for farmworkers, we're gonna do some training programs where we can train growers that they know what the law says and then they can implement it."
Flores says that's really where Reynolds American sits today in its attitude toward labor rights in the tobacco fields. But what's really needed he says are real labor rights and the power of farmworker collective action.
[Justin Flores]: "So we're really calling on them to get over that hump and stop making excuses, stop denying, stop these little cosmetic things that aren't really gonna to have any long-term results and really get down to the issue of labor rights so that farmworkers can have their own opportunities to tell their growers and tell the companies what they need in a collective fashion."