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22 Jan 2024

Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Grocery giant and Fair Food holdout Kroger linked to yet another modern slavery ring

Kroger, one of the largest grocery retailers in the country, has been connected to modern-day slavery — yet once again — as detailed by an investigation from The Lever. This time, Kroger was linked to Maria Patricio, a lead suspect in the sprawling “Blooming Onion” human trafficking ring, whose own criminal proceedings are ongoing though several of her alleged co-conspirators have already either pled guilty or been sentenced.

As if one instance of modern-day slavery uncovered in its supply chain weren’t enough to motivate a meaningful conversation about the need to get serious about monitoring and enforcing human rights standards in its suppliers’ operations, this marks the third time in the past four years alone that Kroger has been linked to a forced labor operation when there is a ready-made, proven and highly-regarded solution standing right in front of Kroger: the Fair Food Program. In 2021, an investigation from the LA Times revealed Kroger to be buying tomatoes from a Mexican farm subject to a Withhold Release Order (WRO) from the U.S. Government due to findings related to forced labor, and in early 2023, the Department of Labor publicly outed Kroger as a buyer of watermelons harvested by modern-day slaves...

The question before Kroger — its executive leadership, its board of directors, and its shareholders — is simple: Is having a case of modern-day slavery almost annually over the last 4 years an acceptable level of risk for Kroger, as long as the produce continues to arrive on shelves at the right time, in the right quality, and at the right price?  

If the answer to that question is yes, then Kroger needs to break its silence and own the outrageous failure of its social responsibility approach so consumers can know the company’s true thinking when it comes to the human rights of the men and women who pick its produce.

But if not, then Kroger needs to join the Fair Food Program — the universally-recognized gold standard for preventing forced labor and protecting fundamental human rights in corporate supply chains today — without further delay...