For Immediate Release
RFK Center and Anti-Slavery International Celebrate International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition
Advocates Urge Florida Tomato Growers Exchange to Stop Opposing Human Rights Agreements between Farmworkers and Burger King, McDonald's, and YUM! Brands' to Fight Modern Day Slavery
They are also calling upon the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE) to take a stand against forced labor in Florida's fields by ending their obstructive practices against agreements made between farmworkers and major produce buyers to support human rights in their supply chains. The FTGE is a cooperative of Florida tomato growers which account for the overwhelming majority of Florida's tomato production. The CIW has reached deals with Taco Bell owner Yum! Brands, Inc., McDonald's, and Burger King, in March 2005, April 2007 and May 2008, respectively, whereby those corporations agreed to pay tomato pickers 1 penny more per pound of tomatoes picked and to work with farmworkers on systems to ensure slavery does not occur on the farms of their suppliers. The FTGE has taken steps in recent months to stymie the implementation of these initiatives.
"Over two hundred years after the U.S. Congress banned the slave trade, farmworkers in Florida's fields still bear the pain and indignity of modern day slavery and human rights abuses to pick the tomatoes which top the salads and sandwiches Americans eat everyday," said Aidan McQuade, Director of Anti-Slavery International. "The Florida Tomato Grower's Exchange has the opportunity to partner with its customers to implement these human rights based agreements, but it is refusing to do so."
In the past decade, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has conducted dozens of investigations into slavery in the U.S. agricultural industry, resulting in eight prosecutions involving over one thousand workers in Florida, which DOJ officials have called "ground-zero for modern day slavery." These include workers who were locked in trailers, tied up and chained, drugged, and threatened with physical harm to their families if they attempted to leave. Criminal prosecutions for slavery occur only in the most extreme cases while many workers are exploited in subtler ways that go unpunished. These workers, whose rights to organize and collectively bargain are not protected by federal law, and whose wages are pushed below poverty level by the downward pressure on prices exerted by the volume purchasing power of major purchasing companies, have become victims of slavery and other gross human rights abuses.
"The FTGE members are standing in the way of workers realizing their human rights and the express will of consumers and socially responsible corporations working to promote fair food," said Monika Kalra Varma, Director of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights. "Today, as the world celebrates the end of the gross abuses of the slave trade, we are calling upon the FTGE to end their obstructive practices, support workers' rights and join us in standing against modern day slavery."
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