Protest of Farmworker Conditions Planned for Belle Meade Publix Tonight

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According to a press release sent to Bites by an organization calling itself Nashville Fair Food, a coalition of concerned Nashvillians will descend on the Belle Meade Publix to protest the supermarket chain's "non-participation in the Fair Food Program, a human rights and farm labor reform which has been recently lauded by the White House and the United Nations."

Protesters will be joined by Nely, "a tomato-picker from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a farmworker organization in Immokalee, Florida which has worked with the FBI to liberate 1,300 individuals from conditions of forced labor, or what the FBI calls 'modern-day slavery.' " They plan to gather at Vine Street Christian Church at 6 p.m., then head to Publix at 7 p.m. to demonstrate and deliver a letter intended for Publix management.

Full release below:

Nashville Green Groups Calling on Publix to Stop Ignoring Modern-Day Slavery in the American Tomato Supply Chain

Nashville, Tennessee — On Monday, June 24th, more than 50 community members from Nashville will protest Publix Supermarkets for their non-participation in the Fair Food Program, a human rights and farm labor reform which has been recently lauded by the White House and the United Nations. These protestors from the green community and faith communities will be joined by Nely, a tomato-picker from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a farmworker organization in Immokalee, Florida which has worked with the FBI to liberate 1,300 individuals from conditions of forced labor, or what the FBI calls "modern-day slavery", in the tomato fields of Florida in just the past 15 years. The CIW was recently called in a Presidential report "the spark which ignited the movement," referring to the growing international push to end modern day slavery.

"The green, food, and environmental groups which have endorsed the campaign in a letter being delivered this Monday represent the broad feeling in Nashville's entire green community that food cannot just be 'good', it also has to be 'fair'", says Audrey Jackson, an undergraduate at Vanderbilt majoring in Environmental Science & Society, "That is why so many here in Nashville are moved to add their voice of conscience."

The environmentalists' statement adds to the large support in the Nashville faith community, as well as among students. Six hundred churches of the TN United Methodist Church recently voted in their Annual Conference overwhelmingly to endorse the call on Publix to join the Fair Food Program. The resolution stated:

"Since 2002, Publix has expanded into Middle Tennessee with more than 30 locations, making it one of Publix’s three most important target growth markets…Residents from across Middle Tennessee have joined with the CIW in insisting that Publix support human rights and dignity for the workers who pick the produce we eat."

The growing chorus of voices in Nashville reflect our city's historical position as "a catalyst for racial justice movements, [with] a rich history of joining in struggles to ensure justice for all," as the Nashville Metro City Council unanimously declared in a resolution in 2011. They continued, "It is fitting and proper that the Metropolitan Council recognize and welcome the CIW…and their efforts to bring to light the continued struggle against slavery.

The Fair Food Program (FFP) brings together farmworkers, growers, consumers, and eleven multi-billion dollar retail food leaders (including Publix competitors Whole Foods and Trader Joe's) in support of fair wages and humane labor standards for tomato harvesters. Despite the FFP's unprecedented success in bringing about long-overdue labor reforms in Florida's $500-million tomato industry, 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, compliant mechanism, and "penny-per-pound" bonus.

The protest and letter-delivery will occur at 7:00pm at the Publix Supermarket in the Shopping Center at Belle Meade. The gathering place will be Vine Street Christian Church at 6:00pm to listen to the farmworker, Nely, as well as other community speakers including Rev. Matt Kelley, and will be marching to Publix at 6:50pm and arriving at 7:00pm. The colorful protest will end at 7:20pm.

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Local green, food, and environmental groups signing the letter include:
Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM) - Social Justice Committee
TN Alliance for Progress
Transition Nashville
Community Food Advocates
Good Food for Good People

In the letter, they write:

Publix founder George Jenkins used to say, “Don’t let making a profit get in the way of doing the right thing.” More recently, on the label of your Publix­-brand GreenWise Fair Trade coffee, you say "Fair Trade prices help small farmers provide employees with livable wages and work conditions." You go on to say that Fair Trade "fosters the same values we do: community, well­being, and a nicer world." Yet while Publix embraces those wholesome values when it comes to marketing its own Fair Trade coffee, your company has stubbornly resisted joining the growing movement for Fair Food when it comes to buying Florida tomatoes for over four years. As Publix customers and Nashville residents, we ask Publix to stand by its ideals and sign the Fair Food Agreement, a proven model for improving the lives of farmworkers, which is backed by the expertise of the CIW and the tomato industry itself. We hope that in welcoming your business to our community, we can soon welcome as well your renewed commitment to human rights, as you partner with farmworkers for Fair Food.

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Nashville Fair Food is a diverse group of Nashvillians collaborating with farmworkers in Florida to eliminate sweatshop conditions and modern-day slavery in the fields. We are students, youth, parents, people of faith, workers, and organizers for economic and racial justice who work from Nashville's rich social movement history.

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