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Essay: Publix Refuses to Join Fair Food Program Despite Protests and Hunger Strikes from Food Laborers

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  • Reading time: 4 minutes
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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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  • Words: 1,062 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 5 (approx)

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Publix is one of highest grossing supermarket chains operating in the United States. As one of the giants in the food industry, Publix generates billions of dollars every year in sales revenue. However, on the other end of this food supply chain are the workers that harvest and produce the food, they live below the poverty line and work under deplorable conditions.

As a result of these circumstances, the food laborers who produce the tomato crop in Florida banded together to form the coalition of Immokalee workers (CIW) and created the Fair Food Program. This program asks large retailers like supermarkets and fast food restaurants to agree to pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes, which would double workers’ annual wages, and to refuse to buy tomatoes from farms that commit human rights violations. As the number one purchaser of tomatoes in Florida, the CIW reached out in various forms to discuss the Fair food program with Publix and get them to agree to these terms, but Publix refused to heed to the requests. In an attempt to force Publix to come to the negotiating table, the CIW decided to take stage public protests and organized six-day hunger strike in front of Publix headquarters. Publix has responded to media outrage by saying that they view this issue as labor dispute and that they do not partake in labor disputes.

If I were the person responsible with dealing with the issue of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers pressure on Publix to agree to the Fair Food Program, my approach would utilize a combination of the principle of non-maleficence and the principle of justice. The principle of non-maleficence states that we should behave in ways that do not intentionally inflict evil or bear harm to others. The ethical principle of justice states that when making a decision, we should focus on actions that are fair to all of the parties involved. My stance for all public relations statements would be similar to the one taken by Publix, releasing a statement maintaining that Publix business affairs in no way were meant to cause intentional harm to any of the wronged parties, however I would also express that Publix did not inflict the direct causation of harm on these individuals.

I would start a PR campaign that focuses on how Publix is an ethical and upright company. Making their practices towards the company mission, which is to be the premier quality food merchant in the world, public knowledge. My statement to the press would include how in their efforts towards this vision, they aim to focus devotedly on customer value, be intolerant of generating any excessive waste, remain dedicated to the dignity and employment security of our personnel, and get involved as responsible citizens in local communities.

I would maintain that since Publix’s inception nearly 85 years ago, they have demonstrated their dedication and commitment to our local communities by providing jobs to aid in economic expansion and give examples of all of the different ways in which they have pledged their support to an expansive variety of charitable organizations and their causes. My media campaign would also focus on how Publix is also widely recognized as a company that is concerned with the livelihood and welfare of its employees, which can be observed through the workplace culture we practice, based on respecting the value of the work produced by our employees and employment security of our associates. My public relations work would center on all of the ways in which Publix has gained its upstanding reputation as your friendly neighborhood supermarket.

In regards to responding directly to the CIW and their concerns, I would organize a press conference in which Publix representatives would fully explain their decision to not agree to the Fair Food Program. Using the principle of justice, I would argue that Publix does not agree with the working conditions that tomato croppers are being subjected to, but stress that it is not Publix’s obligation to pay these workers. Publix does not believe that “paying the penny” is the correct thing to do, as neither Publix nor the workers stand to benefit from this. Publix is more than willing to pay a penny more per pound, or whatever the market price for tomatoes is at the moment, to the suppliers with a formal agreement has been enacted in order to provide fresh produce to customers. However, Publix will not agree to pay employees of these companies directly for their labor. That is not Publix’s responsibility, it is the responsibility of their employer, and we believe all parties would be better served if suitable wages were paid by farmers to their laborers, and Publix was thus charged accordingly. I would minimize the damage done to Publix’s image by stating Publix’s displeasure with the conditions and the less than substantial wages that laborers are forced to endure, and make a pledge to, in the future only buy produce from suppliers whose values reflect those of the companies. I would make it clear that it is the obligation of all our merchants, including Florida farmers who grow tomatoes, to manage their own workforce, this includes paying fair wages and providing a decent work environment that complies with U.S. federal and state laws. If suppliers find it necessary to increase the price at which they sell their produce to get this done, then that is an essential business cost that Publix would be willing to pay.

I would stress that the blame should not fall on Publix as a company but rather on the farmers who employ them and on the governmental agencies that fail to uphold laws protecting these workers. I would make it known that Publix is an ally of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), a food industry organization dedicated to promoting policies to affect change for farm workers. All concerns regarding the moral obligation of Publix’s practices are taken by our partners at the FMI to the U.S. Department of Labor, whose governmental responsibility it is to oversee and enforce standing laws on farms, which include wages and working conditions. Publix strongly believes it is the moral obligation of every business to treat their workforce as such, and hope we can serve as a role model for our suppliers to aspire to do so as well.

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