UPDATE: Thank you to the more than 600 faith leaders who signed this letter. It was sent to the Chairman of the Board of British American Tobacco in the summer of 2021. See the list of signatures.
Where can I find the letter?
What’s This About?
We’re urging faith leaders across the U.S. and around the world to sign a letter to Mr. Richard Burrows, Chairman of the Board, British American Tobacco. We’re asking BAT to ensure freedom of association for farm workers on Reynolds American contract farms.
What did we ask for?
- For BAT to negotiate a memorandum of understanding – as requested by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee – that will guarantee freedom of association, without retaliation, to farm workers employed on Reynolds American’s contract farms.
- For BAT to prohibit contract growers and H2A farm labor contractors from retaliating against farm workers for exercising basic workplace rights. Workers who sign union cards, advocate for higher wages, or organize for better living and working conditions should not be subject to retaliation.
Why British American Tobacco? Aren’t they a foreign company? What does this have to do with farm workers in the U.S.?
British American Tobacco owns Reynolds American, which they purchased in 2016 for $54.5 billion.
The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) has yet to obtain a signed agreement with BAT subsidiary Reynolds American that guarantees freedom of association without retaliation for farm workers who exercise their most basic human rights on RAI contract farms. These talks have been on-going since 2012. BAT acquired Reynolds American Inc. in 2017. Up to that point, BAT held 42% of RAI and 5 seats on the Board of Directors.
Since BAT’s acquisition of RAI, conditions have worsened for tobacco farm workers who seek to organize with FLOC to better their working conditions. Tobacco farm workers face sub-minimum wages, human trafficking, pesticide poisoning, inadequate housing, nicotine poisoning, COVID, unscrupulous labor contractors, no laws protecting their freedom to join a union, state laws that place additional restrictions on farm worker unions and retaliation when they organize to better their conditions.
This is the time for FLOC’s campaign to ensure freedom of association for tobacco farm workers, and the voices of faith leaders are particularly important.
FLOC staff, led by President Baldemar Velasquez, have recruited a national faith leader convenor group (see list below). Join them and help recruit more faith leaders.
In 2014, faith leaders issued a similar call to Reynolds American. As a subsidiary of BAT, Reynolds American is subject to BAT’s corporate decisions, and FLOC is looking to engage BAT and RAI in more productive discussions. This faith leaders’ letter is part of what FLOC believes will be needed to move closer to an agreement with RAI.
Further, BAT subsidiary Reynolds American has reported the absence of violations of freedom of association on its contract farms to the UK Embassy in Washington in response to an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) complaint filed by FLOC against BAT. The faith leaders’ letter raises questions about RAI’s protection of the freedom of association on their contract farms in support of FLOC’s case.
What’s the plan?
We want BAT/Reynolds to see the resolve of faith leaders as they represent multitudes more in our pews and throughout our communities.
Who’s organizing this effort?
The co-coveners of this effort are:
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, Repairers of the Breach
Rev. Sekinah Hamlin, Minister for Economic Justice, UCC Justice and Witness Ministries
Clayton Sinyai, Executive Director, Catholic Labor Network
Rev. Dr. Sharon Stanley-Rea, Director, Disciples Refugee and Immigration Ministries
Julie Taylor, Executive Director, National Farm Worker Ministry
Rabbi David Teutsch, The Louis and Myra Wiener Professor Emeritus of Contemporary Jewish Civilization, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Mira J. Washington, National President, Church Women United
Jim Winkler, President and General Secretary, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA
Where can I learn more?
The current status on the Farm Labor Organizing Committee’s Campaign for Tobacco Worker Justice: http://www.floc.com/wordpress/reynolds-campaign/
Reports by OXFAM America and Human Rights Watch concerning unaddressed abuses in tobacco fields in the South: (sub-minimum wages, human trafficking, child labor, etc.)