To Boycott or Not?

Photo by James Leder

Photo by James Leder

Food co-ops have a history of supporting product boycotts as a way to encourage social justice in the food system. But as they grow, co-ops can become more hesitant to endanger relationships with major suppliers and remove popular products. PCC Natural Markets, the largest natural food cooperative in the US, has been facing picketers for several months after refusing to honor the boycott of Driscoll’s berries initiated by Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ) - a new farmworker union in the state of Washington - and farmworkers of the Alianza De Organizaciones por la Justicia Social in San Quintin, Baja California, Mexico.

FUJ was formed in Washington’s Skagit County after workers employed by Sakuma Bros. struck over low piece rates and unattainable production standards. Sakuma Bros. is the largest industrial berry farm in Western Washington and has been selling their berries through the Driscoll’s label for over 20 years. FUJ’s history of the struggle can be found here. They were joined in the boycott in 2015 by farmworkers in San Quintin who have been demanding better wages from Driscoll’s supplier BerryMex, who previously had a reputation as a model employer in their area.

PCC, which has 11 stores in the Seattle area, has decided not to honor the boycott, unlike several other co-ops in Western Washington. In its statement on the boycott, PCC says they have stopped directly buying from Sakuma Brothers and from suppliers based in San Quintin, but will continue to buy products from Driscoll’s grown in other areas in order to support local farmers. It has also provided alternatives to Driscoll’s berries. Supporters of the boycott counter that it is only by putting pressure on Driscoll’s, the world's largest berry distributor, that farmworkers throughout the whole berry industry can make gains. The strategy seems to be bearing fruit, as Sakuma Bros. has recently agreed to negotiate with FUJ.

How do you think food co-ops should decide whether to join boycotts? Should co-ops evaluate the tactics of the groups calling for the boycott or just base it on who the groups are? Who should make the call - staff, management, the board of directors?