Unions use tobacco company AGM to organise global supply chain
This week the TUC has been helping US farmworkers’ union FLOC to lobby a British-based multinational to ensure better conditions for tobacco workers in North Carolina. British American Tobacco (BAT) is headquartered in London and holds its corporate AGM today, Thursday. FLOC, AFL-CIO and IUF representatives will be at the AGM to protest about the conditions facing farmworkers in North Carolina who supply BAT’s North American subsidiary, R.J.Reynolds, with tobacco leaf. The mostly migrant workforce experiences low wages, terrible health and safety risks, and appalling accommodation.
BAT claims that their lack of a direct employment relationship (farmworkers are employed by growers/farmers who contract to the tobacco companies, sometimes through a further intermediary) absolves them of responsibility or power over the farmworkers’ conditions. But it is in the nature of global supply chains that such multinationals are, in fact, responsible for the employment and living conditions of the people from whom global profits are extracted. And unions are increasingly using those supply chains to campaign for union recognition and better terms and conditions for some of the least powerful workers in today’s global market.
The campaign in London saw a coalition including the union representing tobacco workers in the UK (Unite), the US equivalent of the TUC, the AFL-CIO, the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF) and the National Farm Workers Ministry, an ecumenical faith group from the USA, all of them pictured here outside the London headquarters of BAT.
Pictured left to right are: Jennie Formby (Unite), Burcu Ayan (IUF), Diego Reyes (FLOC member), Virginia Nesmith (NFWM), Baldemar Velasquez (FLOC President), Ron Oswald (IUF General Secretary), Penny Schantz (AFLCIO), Owen Tudor (TUC). Mac Urata of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) took the picture.