Friday, June 27, 2008

Since the last appeal was published 'Trader Joe's' has replied to the United Farm Workers appeal in the previous blog post. Their reply was about as appetizing as a 3:00 am alcoholic trip to the local plonk shop (impossible here in Canada outside of Québec) to get the most repulsive booze to continue the party (see the Gospel on serving the best wine first- one wonders what "Two Buck Chuck" refers to, perhaps something like 'Dead Duck' wine up here in the frozen north). The reply to this reply by the UFW, along with a new appeal, follows below.
Tell Trader Joe's to Chuck the Excuses
Earlier this week we told you about the connection between the tragic heat death of 17-year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez and Charles Shaw wines--known as "Two Buck Chuck"--that is sold at Trader Joe's. Trader Joe's boasts about their "great relationship with a valued supplier" (Charles Shaw) on their website.

Thousands asked Trader Joe's to encourage their "valued supplier" to improve conditions for farm workers at the farms affiliated with Bronco Winery, the producer of Charles Shaw wines. Instead of dealing with the issue, Trader Joe's sent many UFW supporters a misleading response full of half-truths and evasions.

Below is the UFW's response to their assertions:
Trader Joe’s assertion: Maria Jimenez was employed by an independent contractor, working in an independent vineyard. The vineyard supplies many wineries, but was not supplying grapes for Charles Shaw.
Reality: Trader Joe's prides itself on serving the most progressive, health conscious consumers in our society. They should not evade the issue by pointing to contractor arrangements made by the winery to insulate itself from responsibility for exploitation of the workers. Trader Joe's needs to take moral responsibility and help end that exploitation.

Trader Joe’s assertion: The company employing the young farm worker has no more of a relation to Trader Joe's than they do to any other wine retailer or restaurant.
Reality: The facts in this case are clear: Maria Isabel Jimenez died a tragic death while working on a farm--West Coast Farms--co-owned by Fred Franzia. Mr. Franzia is also the owner of Bronco Winery, which produces Charles Shaw wines. It is widely reported that 5-13 million cases of Charles Shaw wine is sold at Trader Joe's stores per year.

We are not denying that Maria was paid through a farm labor contractor. As attorney Robert Perez who is representing Maria's family in a wrongful death lawsuit told the Sacramento Bee, "The reason why corporate farms hire labor contractors is not to have to deal with farm workers themselves and to shield themselves from liability."

However, the above facts need to be considered to understand the complete story. And although we have never said that Maria worked on a field dedicated to Charles Shaw, the set of relationships in play in this incident are very clear.

Trader Joe's assertion: Our vendors have a strong record of providing safe and healthy work environments and we are currently making certain that our vendors are meeting government standards throughout all aspects of their businesses.
Reality: In the case of Maria, the labor contractor she worked for had been fined for heat violations in 2006, though the state never collected the fines. They were shut down after Maria's death. West Coast Farming continues to use unscrupulous labor contractors that don't abide by the law. Last week, workers filed charges with Cal OSHA for lack of water and shade at one of the company's locations.

Trader Joe's touts its concern for safe and healthy work environments regarding its vendors. What specific steps is the retailer taking to make certain that its vendors are meeting government standards in this aspect of their businesses? Why shouldn't the retailer demand better from the contractors its vendors use?

The summer has just begun and more sizzling temperatures are expected this weekend. Please click to send a fax to Trader Joe's corporate headquarters today and ask that they implement a corporate policy to ensure that their suppliers are not violating the law by failing to provide basic protections such as cold water, shade and clean bathrooms.

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