In Florida, tomato pickers are subjected to brutal forms of modern-day slavery. Ahold-owned supermarkets would still buy tomatoes from farms that have recently used slave labour. Earlier this week, a delegation of the renowned Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) visited the Netherlands to meet with Ahold management and to strengthen alliances with local community organisations and trade unions.
A report by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) describes how in 2008, two employers were convicted to 12 years in prison for “beating, threatening, restraining, and locking workers in trucks to force them to work as agricultural labourers. They were accused of paying the workers minimal wages and driving the workers into debt, while simultaneously threatening physical harm if the workers left their employment before their debts had been repaid.”
The SOMO report quotes evidence that Ahold subsidiaries Giant and Shop & Stop still buy tomatoes from the two farms that were involved in the latest slavery convictions. In a letter to the CIW, Ahold said that it is committed to buying products that have been produced in a socially responsible way and that its supplier is audited by Socially Accountable Farm Employers (SAFE). However, the CIW points out that the SAFE certification process is controlled by the industry and quite meaningless, since the two farms involved in slavery had also been certified as ‘socially responsible’ by SAFE.
At a meeting in Amsterdam organised by OKIA, representatives of the CIW met with representatives of community organisations and trade unions, including union officials, organisers and activists involved with Ahold in the Netherlands and a solidarity committee set up to support the Dutch cleaners’ campaign. Currently, the CIW’s objective is to draw public attention to Ahold’s role in Florida and to convince Ahold to assume real social responsibility. “We told Ahold management that we don’t want to hold public actions, but we will if we have to.”
The CIW is a grassroots organisation of tomato pickers from Immokalee, Florida. Through public actions and coalitions with churches and students, they convinced major fast-food chains including Taco Bell, Burger King and McDonald’s to sign agreements on decent wages and organising rights for farm workers.