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Nationwide Protest Has Roots in North Carolina

September 14, 2010

RALEIGH, N.C. - This week a labor group is trying to get the attention of one of North Carolina's largest tobacco companies by targeting the firm's purse strings. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), based in Raleigh, is organizing protests nationwide in front of branches of Chase, one of the lead banks that provides $498 million in credit to Reynolds American tobacco company.

The campaign is an effort to raise awareness about the way FLOC says tobacco farm workers, many of them undocumented, are treated, according to FLOC organizer Briana Connors.

"Their main focus is protecting their jobs, making money while they're here, being able to support their families. So, many are very afraid to speak out when things are wrong."

FLOC is demanding that Chase bank join them in their fight for improved working conditions at farms associated with Reynolds American, or stop issuing credit to the tobacco company. Reynolds American says it is not aware of any labor violations at contracted farms and there are regular meetings with contractors to make sure they are aware of all state laws.

Reynolds American does not directly employ tobacco farm workers. Instead, they purchase tobacco from contracted growers across the state.

According to Connors, FLOC insists that Reynolds American can influence the working and living conditions of the workers.

"What we do know is that Reynolds has the power and the resources to better monitor that supply chain and make sure that farm workers' rights are being protected."

There are no Chase bank locations in the North Carolina, but FLOC organizers are asking people to close their bank and credit accounts with Chase in an effort to protest the bank's support of Reynolds American.

A Reynolds American open letter on labor issues is at www.rjrt.com

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC