A briefing took place on November 5th at AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C regarding the assassination of Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC). member Santiago Rafael in 2007. FLOC President, and newly elected AFL-CIO executive committee member, Baldemar Velasquez spoke about how his organization seeks justice for this heinous crime as well as actions FLOC is currently taking to bring about justice for Reynolds Tobacco field workers in the southern US. The organizing of tobacco workers around the world is absolutely essential in creating a secure livelihood for tobacco workers in Mexico, Malawi and the US. In addition, ILRF has long targeted the tobacco industry as an industry that uses child labor. Also attending the event was Leonel Rivero, the Mexican human rights lawyer providing council for Rafeal’s family and FLOC. Rivero discussed the obstacles to working on this case given government and police corruption on the Mexican side.
Currently the H-2A guest worker program is the only legal way Mexican workers can come to the United States to work in agriculture. Poor laborers in Mexico face a choice of paying a recruiter to acquire a visa for them, or paying a smuggler to help them illegally cross the border. After hearing grievances from Mexican workers about how often they are ripped off by recruiters, FLOC created a system where workers could directly deposit visa fees to the consulate instead of relying on a recruiter to trigger their employment. While creating safe options for workers, the FLOC system takes a lucrative business away from recruiters. This was the work that Rafael was doing before his murder and the work that FLOC continues to do. See this link to find out how you can fight for justice for Santiago Rafael: http://www.floc.com/documents/Justice%20for%20Santiago.pdf.
In their effort to create a tobacco supply chain free of worker abuses, FLOC has targeted Reynolds Tobacco Company located in North Carolina. This is a company that benefits from exploitative labor recruitment as well as terrible working conditions for their laborers including exposure to lethal nicotine and pesticides, racism, and miserable housing in labor camps. Velasquez commented that on his visit to the company’s fields he was shocked to see that most of the workers weren’t even wearing shoes. To get involved in the FLOC campaign to organize field workers who produce tobacco leaf for the Reynolds Tobacco supply chain click here: http://www.floc.com/RJR%20Campaign.htm.
Although tobacco is grown in over 100 countries throughout the world, companies sourcing in Malawi are one of the biggest offenders of child labor practices. In fact, and alarming 78 % of children between the ages of 10 and 14 and 55 % of children ages 7 to 9 work with their parents on tobacco farms in Malawi. These pictures depict children toiling on tobacco farms.
ILRF is committed to ending these unacceptable abuses in the fields through our tobacco campaign. We also stand in solidarity with FLOC as they struggle to support farmworkers in the U.S.