NC Consumers take action and tell Kangaroo to
stand up for farmworkers
>Customers visit Kangaroo Headquarters to demand rights for Tobacco Farmworkers
March 2013 Cary, NC
On Friday March 1st a group of UNC and NC State students along with union leaders and community leaders visited The Pantry Inc, (parent company of Kangroo) headquarters to express their concerns about human rights violations of tobacco farmworkers in North Carolina and the South. Madeline Miller and Catherine Crowe, both students ad UNC-CH who belong to Alianza, a farmworker support group, led the crowd. Last year, Alianza wrote a letter to The Pantry which, to date, has been ignored by the company. The students explained to the Pantry representative who greeted the group that they had personally been to the fields to see where farmworkers were working and living.
Miller explained, “their homes are just cement barrack style, there are no divisions between toilets, and they are preserved under unsanitary conditions. You or anyone from The Pantry would not live in a similar setting if you had the choice.”
The representative from the Pantry responded by saying that they had done all they could do, that they had helped facilitate a meeting between Reynolds American and FLOC, and that this is all they could do. The rest was up to tobacco suppliers and cigarette manufacturers.
Consumers know the company can do more. “Many companies have looked at their supply chains and have taken steps to clean them up, are you willing to do the same?” said Matt Hickson from the North Carolina Student Power Union. To everyone’s disappointment, The Pantry representative responded saying there was nothing else he could do. Dave Austin a member of the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship invited the Pantry executives to visit the fields this summer. “We would like you to come and visit the fields, see the conditions that human beings are being forced to live through.”
But the answer from The Pantry remained the same.
“We are your customers, we come to your stores, we enjoy your Roo Cups, and as customers we are leaving today unsatisfied” said Ana Maria Reichenbach, organizer with FLOC.
The reality is that Kangaroo Express has reported that around 39% of their sales come from Tobacco products. This makes them implicit in a supply chain that perpetuates worker exploitation and does not give workers the right to organize and to a life with dignity. Though they have helped start conversations between Reynolds and FLOC no agreement guaranteeing worker rights has been signed at the start of the 2013 season.
“We would like to keep communicating with us and you will be hearing from us soon” said Crowe.
>Consumers rally at Kangaroo on International Human Rights Day
On the days leading up to International Human Rights day, students, the faith community, and labor allies committed to standing up for the human rights of farmworkers throughout the tobacco supply chain.
Supporters gathered at local Kangaroo Express convenience stores in Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Greensboro, sending a clear message to Kangaroo that they are part of the tobacco supply chain and are responsible when human rights abuses occur in that supply chain.
Catherine Crowe, a UNC student, expressed that she came out because she visited the fields this past fall. “While seeing the conditions of the camp and speaking with many of the farmworkers, it dawned on me how similar their living conditions are to that of former slaves. It angered me to see that while our country has made progress, racial and class inequalities are still perpetuated and exploited by our economic structure. I came to the action because as a consumer and activist, I refuse to accept the inhumane treatment of farmworkers,” she explained as supporters passing by honked their horns.
In Greensboro, the action kept a high spirit thanks to Cakalak Thunder who accompanied supporters with their energetic drumming. After making their presence known outside the Kangaroo Express situated at a busy intersection, a large delegation of supporters went inside to talk to the Kangaroo management.
Wesley Morris of the Beloved Community Center took the lead and explained to the managers “We have been to these labor camps, we have been to the fields, we understand what the conditions are. It’s important that Kangaroo understands what is going on and takes action to stop these human rights abuses.” As we delivered the letter and supporters gathered outside the store they chanted, “ we’ll be back, we’ll be back” signaling to Kangaroo that they must respond to consumer concerns.
Special thanks to Cakalak Thunder, Beloved Community Center, UNC Alianza, SAF, Greensboro IWW, ERUUF, Triad JwJ, and everyone else who sponsored these events in support of human rights.