A national group working to convince companies to change the way they buy produce picketed Kroger’s annual shareholder meeting June 26.
About 100 activists held signs and chanted as shareholders filed into the meeting at Music Hall.
The group organizing the event, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, is based in Immokalee, Fla., and pushes for higher wages and improved working conditions for farm laborers. A large amount of produce production takes place in Florida and throughout the South, and the industry is rife with complaints of worker exploitation and mistreatment.
Hundreds of thousands of farm workers labor in Florida, where it can take picking a couple tons a day to make a living wage. That’s if they make any money at all. Florida has prosecuted a number of cases of slave labor in the agricultural industry in the past decade and a half, leading to the discovery of more than 1,000 people being exploited for unpaid slave labor.
The adverse conditions affect people of color disproportionately.
A study by the Center for Racial Justice Innovation found that 50 percent of low-wage workers in the food industry are people of color, and that 65 percent of low-wage farm workers are Hispanic.
CIW started in 1993 as a small, local coalition working to improve these conditions, specifically working with tomato pickers. The group began near the city of Immokalee in southwest Florida, known as “the tomato capital of the world.” The organization had big success pushing for higher wages and better treatment and has grown to become a national-level organizing group for workers.
The CIW’s Fair Food Program, an effort to address some of the hardships of work in the produce industry, pushes for an extra cent per pound paid to workers, supports a code of conduct for companies and educates workers about their rights. CIW says the Fair Food Program has resulted in $12 million in extra pay for workers since it was first instituted.
McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Subway, Chipotle, Trader Joes, Whole Foods and Walmart, among other large companies responsible for billions of dollars in the produce trade, have all participated in the Fair Food Program. Some staunch holdouts include Wendy’s and Publix, a Southern grocery store chain.Kroger is another company that has yet to join in. The chain is the nation’s largest grocer after Walmart, with total sales of more than $34 billion. Kroger has not yet responded to calls to join fair food efforts, thought it has also never participated directly in any known agricultural injustices.