On Wednesday, Dec. 8, a small group of religious leaders met with Reynolds American Inc., an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of British American Tobacco (BAT). The meeting was in response to a letter sent earlier this year to BAT about farm workers being denied their right to freedom of association. BAT responded through Reynolds, stating the subsidiary will handle all engagement efforts moving forward.
In the letter, religious leaders requested Reynolds to negotiate a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) that guarantees freedom of association without retaliation to farm workers employed on Reynolds American contract farms. They also asked Reynolds to prohibit contract growers and H2A farm labor contractors from retaliating against farm workers for exercising basic workplace rights.
Throughout the meeting, the religious leaders continued to show solidarity with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), NC’s only farm labor union, to support tobacco farm workers. Executives of Reynolds shared practices they have adopted within the last 10 years to improve conditions within their supply chain. However, the religious leaders questioned the effectiveness of these practices. Reynolds made it clear that a current MOU was not “workable”, and they would be unable to enforce it with their suppliers. As the meeting finalized, the religious leaders made it clear they would continue to hold Reynolds accountable in promoting farm worker rights in hopes they can set the standard in the tobacco industry.
During the meeting, Rev. Dr. William Barber II announced that the Poor People’s Campaign would make farm workers a strong presence in their gatherings and would give voice to farm worker conditions. Rev. Dr. Sharon Stanley-Rea of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) shared that Canadian religious leaders are working on a similar letter of support to be in solidarity with their American counterparts, especially since the new chairman of BAT’s board is from Canada.
The religious Leader conveners for the letter to BAT, and participants in yesterday’s meeting were:
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, President of Repairers of the Breach; Rev. Sekinah Hamlin, Minister for Economic Justice, Justice and Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ; Clayton Sinyai, Executive Director of Catholic Labor Network; Rev. Dr. Sharon Stanely Rea, Disciples Refugee and Immigration Ministries for the Christian Church; Julie Taylor, Executive Director of the National Farm Worker Ministry; and Rabbi David Teutsh, Profesor Emeritus and Senior Consultant at Center for Jewish Ethics. Conveners Mira Washington, National President of Church Women United, and Jim Winkler, President and General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, were unable to attend.
Julie Taylor, Executive Director at National Farm Worker Ministry, serves as the contact person for the conveners.