Arriving in the pouring rain, representatives of FLOC, IUF, Unite, and Rev. Singh of the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility, attended the British American Tobacco annual meeting today, April 29. Outside the BAT AGM were a group of young activists protesting BAT policies with regards to child labor and youth smoking. Pres. Velasquez met with them and reported the conditions of tobacco farmworkers that FLOC is trying to change.
During the meeting, BAT announced it had invested another $4.7 billion (yes, billion!) in Reynolds American. FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez urged the shareholders and executives to deal with the problems in the company’s supply chain, such as human trafficking, squalor in labor camps, and farmworkers’ fear of retaliation for speaking out against abuses. After outlining the present situation of farmworkers in North Carolina President Velasquez asked, “How many more years of advocacy will it take before BAT takes its responsibility serious and uses its influence with Reynolds to get them to sign an agreement with FLOC guaranteeing labor rights in their supply chain with a process for workers to exercise freedom of association?”
Chairman Burrows made the bold claim that Reynolds has guaranteed him that none of the conditions laid out by President Velasquez were not happening on Reynolds contract farms, even though they did exist on non-Reynolds farms.
Jacqueline Baroncini of IUF reminded the company that while the audits Chairman Burrows mentioned are not totally trustworthy, there is nothing like trade union continual monitoring to ensure there are no abuses in their supply chain and reiterated that the company should use its power within Reynolds to convince them to sign the agreement with FLOC that guaranteed the right to join a union and a process to negotiate collectively with employers.
FLOC Vice-President Justin Flores invited the full board to come to North Carolina, positive that they would find that abuses were happening on farms that source tobacco to BAT products. VP Flores also noted that they are a customer of 8% of Universal Leaf’s tobacco and that they should encourage Universal Leaf to sign the agreement with FLOC as well.
Chairman Burrows encouraged further dialogue and informed FLOC that there would be a meeting between BAT and FLOC after the AGM, but did not respond to the invitation.
After the annual meeting, FLOC met with company representatives and laid out in more detail why BAT should and can act to end labor abuses in their supply chain. FLOC and BAT agreed to continue engaging in discussions and follow up.
What was clear today is that the world is taking notice about what is happening in the US South and that both BAT and Reynolds need to take these seriously. Amidst a growing movement to hold these companies accountable, the Reynolds American annual meeting will take place on May 7th, where FLOC will continue to pressure the company to do the right thing. We’ll keep supporters informed of developments as they happen.