Every May, during Reynolds’ annual shareholders’ meeting for the last several years FLOC protesters have marched through Downtown Winston. Farmworkers and their allies from around the state and around the country form a small army of red, calling upon Reynolds to sign an agreement with FLOC.
This year, due to British American Tobacco’s acquisition of Reynolds, the company’s shareholders meeting was postponed until tomorrow. That’s when shareholders at BAT and Reynolds will hold simultaneous votes on the union of two tobacco giants.
FLOC and their allies aren’t coming to Winston this year. Instead, they rallied in our state’s capital yesterday to protest the General Assembly’s passage of bill S615, which will cripple FLOC’s ability to organize in our state. S615 is another setback for FLOC. But FLOC has vowed to fight on. They’re in the long game.
— FLOC (@SupportFLOC) July 18, 2017
FLOC’s Reynolds American campaign has lasted more than ten years now. According to the Raleigh News and Observer, “FLOC has two collective bargaining agreements in the state, one with a farm and another with a grower’s association..” Reynolds, Philip Morris, and BAT have all refused to work with FLOC. They’re content to have the workers that grow the tobacco that they depend on, suffer and in some cases die in the fields than have FLOC organize their workers.
The appalling conditions in today’s tobacco fields have been well documented. Human Rights Watch has done some great work bringing the conditions of the modern tobacco field worker to a wider audience. The New York Times and the Guardian have also done great work describing labor conditions (child labor, harmful pesticides, substandard housing conditions, lack of clean water, etc) that would cause any industrial factory to be immediately closed down.
BAT has $54.5 billion to acquire Reynolds outright, but they’re refusing to give FLOC a seat at the table. Basic standards for tobacco workers-all that FLOC is demanding, would at most cost them pennies on the dollar. The hubris of BAT/Reynolds is off the charts. The tobacco industry, perhaps more than any other industry puts profits above the lives of people. It’s a shameless industry that continues to engage in loathsome practices.
Today, as BAT votes to acquire Reynolds, there is no greater example of how upside down the current capitalist order is. White collar executives-who sell the worlds’ most deadly consumer product will vote in London and Winston-Salem to further enrich themselves, while the rights of consumers and workers are ignored. Shame on BAT and Reynolds!