This week, news broke out of the U.S. Department of Labor uncovering extensive human rights violations at Red Diamond Farms, a grower outside of the Fair Food Program and a major Publix tomato supplier, resulting in the farm paying $1.4 million in penalty fines and $150,000 in stolen wages to workers.
Below are the DOL's findings from the two-year federal investigation:
Investigators from the department’s Wage and Hour Division Tampa District Office found that Red Diamond Farms and Torres violated provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and H-2A temporary agricultural program. Specifically, investigators found the employer:
+ Provided preferential treatment to H-2A guest workers over corresponding domestic workers when it paid the guest workers higher rates and offered them more hours than the domestic workers, and failed to offer free housing or pay transportation costs to the domestic workers;
+ Failed to disclose the conditions of employment to the domestic workers when they were not provided a contract, as the law requires;
+ Concealed the presence of the domestic workers by segregating the payrolls, and denying their presence during the investigation;
+ Failed to keep accurate and complete payroll records.
In the course of the two-year investigation, agency investigators also determined that 380 employees were due back wages stemming from underpayments and the company’s failure to meet the full terms and conditions of the H-2A contract.
Over the course of the past six years, while Publix has turned its back on the thousands of farmworkers and allies who have long stood by the CIW demanding that the South's largest grocery chain make a verifiable commitment to the farmworkers who make its profits possible, at least three separate federal investigations for human rights violations have taken place in its Florida tomato supply chain. All the while, Publix, unbothered and unaccountable to any of these abuses, cashes in the profits of "doing business as usual" with growers like Red Diamond and stocking their shelves with exploitation-tainted produce. And given that Publix has refused time and time again to join the Fair Food Program, this time around is no different.
In the DOL's press release, an administrator states, “Red Diamond Farms and its owner willfully disobeyed federal labor laws and exploited vulnerable, low-wage workers. These actions are unacceptable.” And just as Red Diamond has willfully exploited and humiliated farmworkers in the fields, Publix willfully has chosen to turn a blind eye to the conditions in its supply chain and deny the imperative for participation in the Fair Food Program.
No amount of PR ploys or delicately written statements can justify Publix's complicity in the deplorable abuses flourishing within its supply chain, especially when now, for five seasons strong, tens of thousands of farmworkers under the Fair Food Program are exercising their right to report abuses without fear of retaliation and work free from sexual harassment, violence and forced labor, and 14 multi-billion dollar corporations are utilizing their market power to enforce these rights.
So long as Publix remains on the hook for buying produce from growers that exploit workers and refusing to do its part to eliminate and prevent human rights abuses in the fields, students and young people will remain firm in incessantly calling on the grocery giant to join its major grocery counterparts in ensuring the farmworkers harvesting the produce – including Red Diamond's exclusive Tasti-Lee tomatoes – they sell in their stores are treated with dignity and respect.
It will be interesting to hear what Publix has to say in its desperate defense this time around. Will Publix continue with its embarrassing tradition of brushing off atrocities in its supply chain and writing them off as "not our business" or will the grocery giant find its sense of shame and join the Fair Food Program once and for all?