January 29, 2016: Bellevue, WA – Braving the cold, over a dozen supporters of the international boycott of Driscoll’s Berries picketed outside of the North entrance on 10th Ave NW at the Hyatt Regency where Costco shareholders held an annual meeting in the hotel’s Evergeen Ballroom on its first floor.
The Northwest based multi-national grocer, Costco, has met with Familias Unidas por la Justicia at its Issaquah headquarters where the farmworkers explained how they were mistreated by local Driscoll’s supplier Sakuma Brothers Farm, how their wages were stolen, how they were denied breaks and how the farmworkers picked directly into Driscoll’s packaging after the company decided to stop selling berries under their own label in 2014.
The farmworkers even appealed that their experience was not unique in regards to Driscoll’s (See: Driscoll’s Notorious track record on Labor). Farmworkers in Baja California that held a general strike of over 70,000 farmworkers in March 2015 were protesting very similar conditions that Washington farmworkers presented to Costco executives. The farmworkers in Mexico also formed an independent union, called for an international boycott of Driscoll’s berry products and in December 2016 formed a pact with Familias Unidas por la Justicia as sister organizations.
Even with a landslide of indisputable evidence, including supreme court decisions in the favor of the farmworkers the wholesale retailer Costco decided not to honor the boycott. Costco refused to stop selling Driscoll’s products at its warehouses. The corporation insisted that it’s addendums to grower requirements were sufficient to guarantee the fair treatment of farmworkers, even though farmworkers from Familias Unidas por la Justicia testified that in fact they had not been treated humanely in the fields that sourced Driscoll’s berries here in Washington.
The picket line started small, with only a few allies holding down the picket line along the north entrance of the shareholder’s meeting. The presence of a International Driscoll’s Boycott picket line immediately visually ruffled the feathers of the current President and CEO, Jim Senegal who ran his fingers through his grey hair as he ordered his photographer to capture images of all the supporters on the picket line that he imagined were important holding an impromptu conference with the heads of the Bellevue Square security guards, Hyatt Regency Hotel security guards and the city police liasons that were present to disucss the growing picket line outside. Mr. Jelenik has gone on the record in the past with the New York Times on November 26, 2012 where he was “adamant that he treats his employees well,” and argued that he was, “not trying to bleed an extra penny”(2012).
The picket line atendees smiled for the camera and displayed their signs that read such messages as “Costco Drop Driscoll’s Stop Exploiting Farmwork,” “Take a stand and support local Farmworkers,” and “Boycott Driscoll’s”. The picket line lasted the entire length of the shareholder meeting, which started at 4:00 and ended around 6:00 in the evening.
About a six farmworkers arrived at the picket line from Burlington, WA at 5:00pm. Some of the more dedicated rank and file, monolingual Mixteco speakers, and Ramon Torres, President of Familias Unidas por la Justicia led the picket line in chanting “Boycott Driscolls” and took about a dozen protesters to march up and down 10th Avenue NE as shareholders exited the underground parking lot beneath the hotel.
Around the same time, inside the shareholders meeting the floor was opened up to questions, Eden and Stephanie boycott supporters bravely unfurled a banner inside the shareholders meeting that read “Costco: Drop Driscoll’s, Stop Exploiting Farmwork” and even though they were surrounded by multiple security guards, stood their ground until it was their turn to ask a question. When finally called upon, Eden explained the boycott and asked Costco shareholders to pressure the executives of Costco to cease purchasing Driscoll’s berries until the farmworker unions had contracts with the farms that Driscoll’s was sourcing berries from. Farmworkers both here in Washington and in San Quintin, Baja California have documented packing directly into Driscoll’s label boxes and for that reason have called for an international boycott of Driscoll’s Berries. They were then escorted by the security team to the North Entrance where they were met with loud chanting and an energized picket line.
Even though Costco has touted itself in the past five years as a progressive grocer, adding supplier addendums that they claim guarantee farmworker safety in the fields and the oceans that supply Costco (See: The Costco Connection). Costco has still not endorsed the boycott that would help the farmworkers apply pressure on their employers to settle a union contract that would govern and guarantee their proper treatment at the workplace. Costco instead claims that their supplier addendums take the place of ensuring that such things as human trafficking or slavery don’t continue to occur at the corporations that supply Costco.
On June 10, 2014, Costco was exposed as one of four major grocers that supplied their prawns from companies that used slave labor in Thailand by The Gaurdian in the United Kingdom (June 10, 2014). Furthermore, in their policy that was drafted in the aftermath of this debacle on Human Trafficking and Anti-Slavery they argue,
In general, we prefer working with the supplier to correct Code
violations rather than immediately terminating the relationship.
Termination is unlikely to correct the underlying issue and may cause
further hardship to workers and their families who depend upon the
employment. However, if the supplier fails to make satisfactory
progress toward improvement, we will cease our business relationship
with that supplier.
(Costco Disclosure Regarding Human Trafficking and Anti-Slavery)
Some of Costco’s stores in the United States, mostly on the East Coast, are unionized by the Teamsters Union. The union has not been able to organize all of Costco’s stores because of the retailer’s anti-union strategy that is focused on paying higher wages to encourage its workers not to join labor unions and an aggressive marketing campaign that presents their corporation as a progressive grocer amid the mounting evidence against this including their refusal to endorse the Driscoll’s Bocyott.
Multi-National Corporate wholesale retail grocer’s like Costco are very much involved in trade policy both within Washington state and on the international scale. Locally, in Washington state this legislative session in 2016, Costco and other grocers like them are advocating that we change the state’s snap/EBT regulations from operating on a monthly basis to a 25 day basis. This grocer led legislation follows one of Costco’s successful campaigns in 2011 that changed the way that alcohol was distributed in Washington State (Seattle Times).
On the international level, Costco is involved in lobbying for foreign trade policy that is beneficial to their business by eliminating trade barriers for their corporation while limiting their liability in cases, such as the one exposed in Thailand, of human trafficking and slavery (See: The Driscoll’s Boycott, The Capitalist Hydra, and the TPP).
The Driscoll’s Boycott and the experiences that farmworkers are reporting and demonstrating against here in Washington and just south of the border in Mexico are the very conditions similar to the abuse reported by those held captive in Thailand fisheries.
It is imperative to understand that Costco is directly linked to the problems that arise at the bottom end of the food chain and should be accountable by going beyond statements and ending relationships with suppliers that blatantly disregard the codes of conduct that Costco creates to limit its liabilities. It is not enough to say you won’t hurt the people who make you wealthy, you have to take a stand and defend their human rights.
Call on Costco to join the International Driscoll’s Boycott!