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Open Letter to Whole Foods Market from the Organic, Labor, & Fair Trade Movements

John Mackey
CEO Whole Foods Market, Inc.
550 Bowie Street
Austin, TX 78703-4644

Mr. Mackey:

We the undersigned are writing to ask for your immediate intervention to resolve the situation facing workers at Beef NW feed lots, a company who supplies your stores with "natural" beef. We are a network of or organic and chemical-free farmers, labor unions, ethical consumers, students, cooperatives and advocates that work in support of "Fair Trade" principles for domestic labor and production. We are particularly concerned about the situation at Beef Northwest's feedlots in Oregon.

As a major international retailer, and the largest retailer of organic and natural food products in the United States, we strongly believe you have a responsibility to fulfill your stated commitment to social responsibility. The situation facing the workers at Beef NW is intolerable. A hundred workers have been struggling for over a year now to have the United Farm Workers represent them. Yet the company has refused to acknowledge the outcome of a free and fair card check election. Even the Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama has called for Beef NW to recognize the outcome of this process. Yet Beef NW has refused.

US labor law discriminates against farm workers by denying them many of the key protections that most other industrial or service workers enjoy, like overtime pay, health and safety protections and even a legally binding mechanism that requires agricultural employers to negotiate a union contract. Even the United State's own General Accounting Office found that "farm workers are not adequately protected by federal laws, regulations, and programs; therefore, their health and well-being at great risk." According to the most recent findings of the National Agriculture Workers Survey (NAWS), nearly three-quarters of U.S. farm workers earn less than $10,000 per year and three out of five farm worker families have incomes below the poverty level.

As such, we strongly believe that you have a moral responsibility to do right by the workers at Beef NW. We are dismayed to learn that instead of supporting a constructive resolution to this dispute, that in your public statements you have sided with Beef NW's anti-union position. We are also dismayed that to date, your company has remained silent in the face of ongoing discrimination against women of color at Beef NW. We understand three women have sued the company for race and gender based discrimination. It is difficult to fathom how such behavior is consistent with your stated values.

We also understand that workers have filed suit against Beef NW for failure to comply with wage and hour laws. Again, we understand Whole Foods has made no public statement decrying these alleged violations of law.

What about Whole Foods' Whole Trade Guarantee program for domestic workers? The Whole Trade Guarantee, through a third-party verified program, ensures that producers and laborers in developing countries get an equitable price for their goods in a safe and healthy working environment. Shouldn't Fair Trade principles and practices apply to vulnerable and often exploited workers and laborers in the United States as well as overseas?

This behavior runs counter to how a responsible retailer should conduct itself. We call on you to stop supporting anti-union tactics and publicly demand that your supplier initiate immediate negotiations with the UFW. It's time to break your silence and publicly demand women of color be offered equal opportunity for employment, as well as to ensure your supplier complies with all pertinent wage and hour laws.


Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association

United Farm Workers

International Brotherhood of Teamsters
International Labor Rights Forum
Global Exchange

Family Farm Defenders
Turtle Island Restoration Network
Breast Cancer Action
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal
Corporate Ethics International
Bay Area Community Services
Bay Area Meat CSA
Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate
Adrian Dominican Sisters
Midwest Coalition for Responsible Investments
Zoë Ida Bradbury, Food & Society Policy Fellow
Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment

Cc. Country Natural Beef Beef Northwest