WINSTON-SALEM (North Carolina) JOURNAL

September 9, 2017

 

Farmworker labor group votes to boycott Vuse

 

By Richard Craver

 

A farmworker labor group often at odds with Reynolds American Inc. voted unanimously Saturday to conduct a national boycott of the company’s Vuse, the top-selling electronic cigarette.

As of August, Vuse’s top market share was 29.8 percent, sold at more than 111,000 U.S. retail outlets.

Catherine Crowe, a spokeswoman for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee of FLOC, said the potential boycott of Vuse is designed to dent Reynolds’ revenue stream since “it is a fairly new product and market for Reynolds.”

“Reynolds has still not signed an agreement with FLOC that would affect real change on the ground by guaranteeing farmworkers freedom of association and implementing a grievance mechanism that farmworkers could use to resolve issues without fear of retaliation,” Crowe said.

According to the N.C. Growers Association, FLOC represents about 2,000 farmworkers in the state.

Since 2007, FLOC has conducted occasional adversarial inquiries during the question-and-answer session of Reynolds’ annual shareholders meeting as well as peaceful street protests following the meeting.

The group was not able to protest in May of this year since Reynolds did not conduct a shareholders meeting.

Reynolds was at that time in the process of selling to British American Tobacco Plc the remaining 57.8 percent of Reynolds that BAT did not already own.

FLOC held its constitutional convention in Toledo, Ohio.

Reynolds said Thursday it had no comment on FLOC’s boycott discussion.

The group has identified a number of problems at tobacco farms in North Carolina, including fatalities, pay below the minimum wage, child labor and a lack of water and breaks during work. Studies by researchers with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have documented such conditions.

In recent years, FLOC has requested that Reynolds support its efforts to require its tobacco suppliers to guarantee laborers freedom of association, including recognition of the right to collective bargaining. FLOC also is pushing for tobacco growers to pay a living wage of $15 an hour.

Ownership of Vuse and plans to take the e-cig brand global was a primary incentive for BAT to buy Reynolds.