Well this is a shitty story.
According to an October, 2012 report issued by the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF)—“Aiding and Abetting: How Unaccountable Fair Trade Certifiers Are Destroying Workers’ Rights”—as soon as Theo management learned of the organizing effort they responded with a campaign of “emotional manipulation, guilt, intimidation, fear and derogatory accusations about unions in general.” On March 3, two senior marketing managers confronted a union supporter in a break room, demeaning her organizing efforts, accusing her of “ruining the family of Theo Chocolate,” and causing her to cry. On March 7 workers met again to discuss their organizing efforts, only to have the meeting disrupted by four Theo managers.
Then Theo brought in the big guns, hiring David Acosta of American Consulting Group (ACG), a firm whose website claims it specializes in “union avoidance strategies,” and that boasts “unparalleled success in designing preventative programs that continues to keep thousands of our clients union-free.”
On March 9, the report claims, Theo CEO Joe Whinney called a mandatory staff meeting at which he attacked the organizing effort and the Teamsters. Employees were told that unions get “commissions” for organizing workers (not true), and that forming a union would damage the relationship between management and employees. Over the next few weeks management repeated these tactics—what workers referred to as “emotional blackmail”—sometimes crying in front of workers, and accusing organizers of selfishly hurting the interests of the poor farmers who supplied Theo its cocoa. “You can’t imagine how hard life is in Africa—your situation pales in comparison to theirs,” the ILRF report quotes one senior manager telling a union supporter.
I didn’t know any of this, I’m ashamed to say. But it’s several years in the past. It’s relevant again because:
And that gets to the heart of the Teamsters’ and the ILRF’s complaint: That Theo management mounted a concerted union avoidance campaign in the midst of its free trade certification process, an international standard that explicitly recognizes the right of workers to “form a trade union of their own choosing and to bargain collectively.” The same rights that the “Fair for Life” logo on its chocolate bars proclaims for its African cocoa farmers, Theo fought to deny the workers in its Seattle factory.