Whole Foods wouldn’t meet with us to talk about workers’ rights. So we went to them.

By Sarah Zoen
Oxfam America staff with Farm Labor Organizing Committee and Teamsters staff outside the Whole Foods headquarters in Austin, Texas. Photo: Oxfam America

What happens when you head to Austin, Texas, to hold the powerful accountable?

Photo: Oxfam America

Whole Foods claims to be a leader on sustainability. But when its leaders didn’t want to talk to us face to face about doing right by their workers, we decided to go to them.

Lone Star State bound from Boston, we made sure that we had a few things planned. We took out a full-page ad in the Austin-American Statesman, calling on Whole Foods to listen to the concerns of their workers. We hired a video truck to drive around Whole Foods HQ for two days, sharing the stories and faces of the people who help source their food. And we brought our friends and labor allies with us—the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and The Teamsters—all with the aim of sitting down with Whole Foods and discussing human rights violations in their supply chain.

Despite our efforts and phone calls, the company said no (again) to a face-to-face meeting. This wasn’t the first time we knocked on the doors at headquarters and got a snub, so we weren’t too surprised (read about our food truck tour and campaign launch). All that said, we remain optimistic that Whole Foods will do the right thing and talk to us about how it will end the human suffering behind the food in its supply chain.

Photo: Oxfam America

Why Whole Foods?

Our Behind the Barcodes campaign ranks six of the biggest US retailers across four themes that are key to measuring sustainability—transparency, workers’ rights, small-scale producers, and women’s equity.

As a “purpose-driven” company this should be a no-brainer. But Whole Foods is tied at the bottom of the scorecard—with a total score of 3 percent out of 100 percent.

As one of the lower performers for over two years, it is time for Whole Foods to take responsibility for the human rights impacts making news in its supply chain.

How your support helps us keep pushing Whole Foods to do the right thing

But thanks to Whole Foods’ customers and more than 200,000 Oxfam supporters taking action, we are seeing important signs of progress.

Just last month, Whole Foods adopted a new Supplier Code of Conduct. The code outlines how the company and its suppliers should operate in accordance with human rights principles. (For those who want to read more about the supplier code, I went into detail about it last fall.)

Whole Foods has also signed a joint advocacy letter with Oxfam and allies to urge the US Labor Department to act on the problem of forced labor in the global fishing industry. We heard last week that the company will sign a letter to the Thai government to support efforts protecting seafood workers from exploitation. We profiled some of the abuses affecting workers processing the seafood that ends up on Whole Foods' shelves earlier in our campaign.

Amazon & Whole Foods

Even though our focus is on Whole Foods, it is important to watch what its parent company Amazon is up to because it could have an impact on Whole Foods’ operations.

Amazon released some new public commitments with the company’s first Human Rights Principles, Supplier Map, and new information on how it is working with different groups and allies—all of which is a major step forward for Amazon and should spark Whole Foods to do more.

Whole Foods told us that it would soon appoint an executive accountable for human rights and labor rights. We are still waiting for a public announcement and to set up a meeting with this new executive. Oxfam and our allies are ready to meet with Whole Foods—the offer is still on the table.

Help us pressure Whole Foods to meet with Oxfam and its allies.

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