Boycott Watch  
December 1, 2009
From Boycott to Fraud - Tomato Pickers Lie To Promote Their Cause.
Summary: Boycott Watch Busts the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
    In March, 2003, Boycott Watch reported about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their boycott of Yum! Brands, the parent company of Taco Bell to get them to pay more for the tomatoes they use in order to benefit the tomato pickers they represent. At the time, boycott Watch followed that effort because it was a boycott to circumvent the growers they work for in order to get a decent wage, which we saw as unique, plus we had sympathy for the migrant workers. In our report, we wrote: "The 40 cents per 32-pound bucket wage means workers have to hand pick 2 tons of tomatoes for a $50 a day wage with no benefits … Nobody has listened to the workers, so they…" In the end, Yum! Brands agreed to pay extra money to the growers as long as the money went directly to the migrant farm workers.

    We thought that would be the end of the efforts by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers since they got exactly what they wanted out of their boycott. Boycott Watch is a firm believer that a boycott must have a clearly stated goal to be effective, and that boycotts with moving target goals are disingenuous because the boycotters can never be satisfied and therefore their boycott will never end. Open ended boycotts are also not fair since the target is permanently vilified and has no ability to actually satisfy anyone.

   Currently, boycotts in support of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers are being pushed on campuses by an organization called the Student Farm-Worker Alliance. Over Thanksgiving weekend, Boycott Watch was sent a PDF by Bon Appétit Management Company which serves food to students on the campus of Washington University in Saint Louis The posting states:

"Students at Washington University will not see tomato slices on their sandwiches or tomato wedges in their salads for the next few months, the result of a decision made by Bon Appétit Management Company, the contractor that provides dining services on the Danforth Campus.

   "Earlier this year Bon Appétit became the first food service company in the country to sign an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), which represents thousands of workers who pick tomatoes in Florida. The agreement creates a code of conduct for Florida tomato growers in an effort to improve wages and working conditions for the workers. Bon Appétit pledged to serve only tomatoes grown on farms owned by those who would agree to sign the code of conduct. The code requires that workers be paid a fair minimum wage, that a process be established for workers to pursue complaints without fear of retribution, that worker safety processes be improved, and that third party monitoring be implemented to insure that the code of conduct is followed.

   "Alderman Farms, a commercial tomato grower located in Boynton Beach, Florida, became the first company to sign the code of conduct. As the tomato harvest begins this month in Florida, Alderman Farms is the only grower that will supply tomatoes to Bon Appétit's Washington University account. The company grows primarily grape tomatoes, meaning that other varieties of tomatoes will not be available on the Washington University campus for the next few months."

    This is more than a case of The Coalition of Immokalee Workers getting other to join their boycott. It is reminiscent of the illegal boycotts. Unions are not allowed to boycott companies to get them to accept a union, nor may union members call for boycotts during a strike, yet that is effectively what we see here - the migrant workers are calling for a boycott of their employers. Additionally, the migrant workers are telling people not to buy their own products, literally the fruits of their own labor.

    Boycott Watch investigated the claim further and discovered it is all based on a lie. Boycott Watch called the phone number on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers website and spoke to Jordan Buckley who claimed to be a Coalition of Immokalee Workers supporter and member of the Student Farm-Worker Alliance, a group which along with "Interfaith Action" shares office space and the phone number with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in the same community center.

    Mr. Buckley described the three groups as having a "key partnership" and he's right. Mr. Buckley was careful to make sure I knew the Coalition of Immokalee Workers were not boycotting or calling for a boycott, but that the Student Farm-Worker Alliance was. It appears to us that the Coalition of Immokalee Workers got some good legal advice about not boycotting, but they probably think people are stupid because we would never figure out that two groups which share an office, phone number and a "key partnership" are actually and effectively working together as one organization. This is incredibly blatant - these people did not even bother getting a separate phone number. The address lines on their respective websites say it all:
PO Box 603, Immokalee, FL 34143 :: (239) 657-8311 :: organize (at)
Coalition of Immokalee Workers o PO Box 603, Immokalee, FL 34143 o (239) 657-8311 o

    We spoke to Vanessa Barrington, Account Manager at Straus Communications, LLC, the company which is the public relations and media contact for Bon Appétit Management Company. Ms. Barrington stated her company worked with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to formulate a policy for them, apparently after being contacted by the Student Farm-Worker Alliance on the Washington University at Saint Louis campus which pushed the boycott. "It looks like Bon Appétit Management Company was scammed" said Fred Taub, President of Boycott Watch. "The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is playing as both teams in a football game and Bon Appétit Management Company fell for it. We at Boycott Watch no longer believe any of the numbers put out by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers because they clearly can't be trusted. We had sympathy for their cause when they first started, a story we were amongst the first to report about a few years ago, but now we know we were duped back then but we are not falling for that now."

    We asked Ms. Barrington what she thought about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers asking people to boycott the people who pay their salaries, and Ms. Barrington was clearly thrown off and surprised by the question. Ms. Barrington then offered to have a representative of the Bon Appétit Management Company contact me directly, which we accepted, but that phone call never came in. We are not surprised - we believe the Coalition of Immokalee Workers gained support from Bon Appétit Management Company fraudulently. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers may have had a good case, but by using fraudulent tactics, they lost all credibility.

    On a side note, when Mr. Buckley stated "Oxfam works closely supporting the campaign" he was surprised when we pointed out our article about how Oxfam illegally boycotts Israel in support of Antisemitism (See: Oxfam Charity Blatantly Violates U.S. Antiboycott Laws by Firing Spokeswoman For Endorsing Israeli Product - Code Pink Joins In - Boycott Watch To File Complaint with U.S. Department of Commerce, IRS. )

   Addendum: After posting the article, Mr. Buckley wrote to say he was with "Interfaith Action" and not the "Student Farm-Worker Alliance". This was despite the fact that Mr. Buckley clearly stated he was with Student Farm-Worker Alliance in our phone conversation, the same conversation in which Mr. Buckley spoke on behalf of the Student Farm-Worker Alliance, the same group calling for a tomato boycott. We stand by our report and note that his affiliation is irrelevant since all three groups are the same anyhow as evidenced by their shared address, P.O. Box and phone number, so his new claim is irrelevant to our report.

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