Sharon's Blog

Letters in support of farm workers

The following two letters were sent to tobacco firms in support of farm worker protections.

April 27, 2016

Susan Cameron, President and CEO
Reynolds American Inc.
401 North Main St.
Winston-Salem, NC 27102

Dear Ms. Cameron,

I am writing as General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, and on behalf of our many Disciples across the country who have been engaged in seeking justice for farmworkers for decades.  We are grateful to have been among the founding denominations with the National Farm Worker Ministry (NFWM) many decades ago, and to continue in consistent partnership with communities of faith through NFWM to act with many among our nation’s nearly two million farm workers to improve their living and working conditions.

As my faith tradition compels me and my community to stand with those seeking justice; we are committed to acting, in concert with NFWM and alongside the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and other farm workers, until Reynolds American takes FLOC’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) proposal seriously and an MOU is agreed upon.

It has been adequately documented that farm workers labor in the fields under the most deplorable conditions, for wages below the poverty level, suffering from exposure to pesticides and green tobacco sickness, living in the shadows since so many lack legal documents to work in the U.S.  Some of our church members have visited personally and seen the conditions under which farm workers toil in North Carolina and other fields.

Since 2008, the National Farm Worker Ministry and people of faith and conscience have been bringing these concerns forward to your company. Reynolds American has sought to assure us that your company has taken steps to alleviate these conditions on your contract farms, but the Farm Labor Organizing Committee sees no progress.  Hundreds of our Disciples of Christ members have signed and shared letters with you upon multiple occasions to communicate our prayers for action to negotiate an MOU, and to ensure farm workers who exercise basic workplace rights should not be subject to retaliation for doing so.  One of these recent letters was sent in July of 2014.

Worker representation and freedom of association on contract farms are the best ways to guarantee that oppressive conditions and human rights abuses will be effectively addressed.  Tobacco farm workers do not have similar labor law protections enjoyed by most workers under the federal National Labor Relations Act and have no protections when they seek to exercise their right to freedom of association. Moreover, they lack an established process which would confirm and facilitate their right to representation.

In 2012, FLOC gave your company a proposal, a Memorandum of Understanding based on the well-established Dunlop Commission, that would establish a process to guarantee freedom of association on your contract farms, but no agreement has yet been reached with FLOC.  Reynolds American cannot continue to avoid addressing these concerns. We urge you to enter into deliberate negotiations with the FLOC which results in an MOU.

I look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,

Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President

******

April 27, 2016

Nicandro Durante, CEO
British American Tobacco PLC
Globe House
4 Temple Place
London WC2R 2PG UK

Dear Mr. Durante:
I am writing as General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, and on behalf of our many Disciples across the country who have been engaged in seeking justice for farmworkers for decades. I am writing to you as British American Tobacco holds 42% of Reynolds American stock and is the largest shareholder.

We are grateful to have been among the founding denominations with the National Farm Worker Ministry (NFWM) many decades ago, and to continue in consistent partnership with communities of faith through NFWM to act with many among our nation’s nearly two million farm workers to improve their living and working conditions.

My faith tradition compels me and my community to stand with those seeking justice; we are committed to acting, in concert with NFWM, alongside the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and farm workers until Reynolds American takes FLOC’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) proposal seriously and an MOU is agreed upon.

It is clearly documented that tobacco farm workers labor in the fields under the most deplorable conditions, for wages below the poverty level, suffering from exposure to pesticides and green tobacco sickness. Even children work tobacco fields because their parents cannot make an adequate wage to support their families.

Since 2008, the National Farm Worker Ministry and people of faith and conscience have been bringing these concerns forward to Reynolds American. Reynolds American has sought to assure farm worker advocates that they have taken steps to alleviate these conditions on their contract farms; yet these conditions persist in the tobacco supply chain. Some of our church members have visited personally and seen the conditions under which farm workers toil in North Carolina and other fields.

Worker representation and freedom of association on contract farms are the best ways to guarantee that oppressive conditions and human rights abuses are effectively addressed. Farm workers do not have similar labor law protections enjoyed by most U.S. workers under the federal National Labor Relations Act and have no protections when they seek to exercise their right to freedom of association. Moreover, farm workers lack an established process which would confirm and facilitate their right to representation.

In 2012, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee proposed to Reynolds American a Memorandum of Understanding, based on the well-established Dunlop Commission, which would establish a process to guarantee freedom of association on their contract farms; however no agreement has yet been reached. Reynolds American must stop avoiding these human rights concerns. Hundreds of our Disciples of Christ members have signed and shared letters requesting that Reynolds American take action to negotiate an MOU, and to ensure farm workers who exercise basic workplace rights should not be subject to retaliation for doing so. One of these recent letters was sent in July of 2014.

Further, we urge that British American Tobacco use its relationship with Reynolds American to advocate for the human rights of tobacco farm workers on U.S. contract farms. We urge you to join us in calling on Reynolds American to enter into deliberate negotiations with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee which result in an MOU with FLOC.

I look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,

Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President