Stories of Justice
For the past 12 years, ERUUFians and our Farm worker Support Action Team have supported the efforts of NC migrant farm workers to improve their living and working conditions. Tremendous progress was made – and the lives of 7,000 H2A farm workers improved – when a contract was signed in late 2004 with Mt. Olive Pickle. Since then farm workers have been trying to get the attention of an even larger corporate entity which indirectly controls all aspects of 30,000 farm workers' lives on the farms which supply its tobacco product – RJ Reynolds (RJR).
There was a setback last year when the National Farm Worker Ministry-NC office – which ERUUF had been a key supporter of – closed due to lack of funding. However, advocacy efforts have continued nationwide, and ERUUF has helped in the effort to persuade RJR to use its tremendous economic power to level the playing field for tobacco farm owners by setting fair wage and working condition standards in its grower contracts, and by recognizing that farm workers should have a voice in determining those standards.
In May, Consulting Assistant Minister Margaret Beard and other ERUUFians rallied with hundreds of farm worker supporters at RJR's annual meeting in Winston-Salem. Other actions have encouraged important RJR product purchasers (e.g. Kangaroo and Pantry convenience stores) to urge RJR to collaborate with farm workers. An Oxfam study on the lack of farm worker human rights was another important motivator. These efforts are having an impact and we may be entering a final stage: RJR is now talking with farm worker leaders, where before RJR denied any responsibility or role in determining farm worker health, safety and well being.
There was a scheduled action, which could well provide the final encouragement that RJR needs to take the progressive action it is apparently considering on International Human Rights Day (Dec 10th). Farm worker supporters all over the nation visited Pantry, Kangaroo, and 7-11 stores near their homes, delivering a letter to the store manager to forward to RJR and urging a fair negotiation with farm worker leaders.