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Published: Tuesday, 4/29/2014

FLOC leader to give presentation in London

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Velásquez Velásquez
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Toledo-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee President Baldemar Velasquez is expected to make a special presentation in London on Wednesday to British American Tobacco about how migrant workers are treated in North Carolina tobacco fields.

Mr. Velasquez told The Blade in an interview earlier this month that he and representatives of other unions would speak at the company's annual general meeting.

He said at the time that people “still don’t get the amount of squalor or poverty imposed on hard-working people.”

“On occasion, something comes before our eyes that shocks us into modern times,” Mr. Velasquez said April 2.

According to an AFL-CIO blog, Mr. Velasquez continues to see his presentation as an opportunity to improve conditions for migrants who work for Reynolds American Inc. under a contract basis. British American Tobacco is a 42 percent stakeholder in Reynolds.

The blog encouraged viewers to click and sign a petition from the International Union of Food Workers, asking Richard Burrows, British American Tobacco's chief executive officer, for help.

A 2011 report by Oxfam America and FLOC showed farm workers often live in labor camps with inadequate or non-functioning toilets and showers and other substandard conditions, suffer from illnesses resulting from nicotine poisoning and exposure to dangerous pesticides, and work long hours for below-poverty wages, the AFL-CIO blog stated.

Mr. Velasquez has received commitments from at least two members of Great Britain’s Parliament to see for themselves this summer how migrant workers are treated in North Carolina tobacco fields — a visit by foreign dignitaries that is rare, if not unprecedented, on U.S. soil.

Invitations are being extended to others, Mr. Velasquez has said.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) intends to join that delegation in North Carolina, according to her communications director.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. asserts in its publications it doesn’t directly employ farm workers or grow its own tobacco.

It also has donated to a nonprofit that strives to improve housing conditions, a company spokesman, Maura Payne, has said.



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