business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB had a story yesterday about layoffs at Target headquarters in the company’s marketing department, and one reader took note of something that we missed:

Target should get a thumbs up for this: The laid-off workers will get full pay and benefits through Dec. 14, severance based on years of service and the option to continue their health insurance for 12 months at their current employee rate.

Good point. It isn’t exactly heartless. But they still don’t have their jobs, and the explanations seem less than forthright.

On another subject, one MNB user wrote:

Isn’t it ironic that an article about Tesco’s Fresh & Easy rebooting to better relate to the US consumer describes a button on their web site that says “Customer favourites” instead of “Customer Favorites”………to quote the legendary Maxwell Smart (a.k.a.- Agent 86) “Missed it by that much!”
Good point...except, to be fair, on the Fresh & Easy website they use the US spelling, “favorites.” The British spelling was used by the British periodical in which we reported that the story appeared...and they used their own style, not the one used by Fresh & Easy.

MNB took note yesterday of a The Lakeland Ledger report saying that the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a Florida farmworkers advocacy group, plans to expand its picketing of Publix stores in south and central Florida to its Lakeland locations, in an effort to get the retailer to pay more for tomatoes and thus improve the living conditions of local workers. In addition, CIW wants Publix to stop doing business with suppliers that it maintains is guilty of abusing workers.

According to the story, Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten “says the chain does not want to become involved in what it calls a labor dispute between the CIW and tomato suppliers. ‘Publix pays fair market value for our tomatoes and we don’t determine that price,’ Patten said. ‘It’s just not our place to determine what the rate should be, which is why this is a labor dispute that should be settled between the workers and the growers’.”

My comment: While I do not know the specifics of the Publix-CIW disagreement, as a consumer I actually believe that it is well within the purview of a retailer to take sides in such cases. If the CIW is correct in its assertions, then Publix should stand up and be on the side of the farmworkers. If the CIW is not, then Publix should say so and why.

As a consumer, I want to know where my retailer stands on such issues. But maybe that’s just me.

MNB user Ken Wagar responded:

As I understand it from the local Florida Newspapers Publix is being asked not only to pay more for their tomatoes but to also ensure that the increase goes directly to the farm workers. How would they do that? Is that their responsibility? Maybe we as consumers should track how many lbs of tomatoes we purchase per year and then should donate a penny per lb directly to the farm-workers. Or maybe that should be law thereby fixing the problem with no undue burden on anyone.

Then we can do the same for our meat to make sure the farmer gets taken care of and more for our milk so the Dairy farmer gets taken care of and more for our running shoes so the Malaysians get taken care of and more for our automobiles so that the union workers get taken care of (Oh yea, we did that….boy did that work out well.)

If there are abuses of US farm workers aren’t there other remedies or shouldn’t there be?
This is either the answer to the economic challenges of millions of people or it is one hell of a slippery slope.

We all make choices.

I prefer to buy US products when the quality is high (New Balance sneakers, for example) and when I respect the corporate culture of the companies with which I do business. I prefer not to do business with companies that I think are exploitive in any way. I don’t know everything about every company with which I do business, but I try my best and I keep my eyes open.

All I was questioning yesterday was Publix’s position that it is inappropriate to take sides in such a battle. I think retailers sometimes should take sides, and in fact can benefit by taking ethical positions in such matters. (Again, this is not a perfect world and this is not a perfect science, and I am sure I will be hoisted on my own petard and accused of being inconsistent because of past positions taken on other ethical/moral issues.)  Now, more than ever, consumers want to know about the values of the companies with which they do business...and this seemed like it could be one of those cases where taking a stand might make sense.
KC's View: