No Theo’s, NO!

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.


  1. 1


    From the Theo’s letter to Goldy, dated yesterday:

    …it’s important to note that, while ILRF’s claims date back to 2010, no complaint has ever been filed
    against Theo with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

    Problems at Theo’s have been reported as far back as 2009. Four years and no one has taken it to NLRB? If people trying to organize a union are being unfairly denied their rights, wouldn’t this be the first place they would think to go?

  2. 2

    Deathfrogg spews:

    @ 1

    Not if the NLRB is known to be compromised by the business interests, which it is. If you stand a 95% chance of being beating to a quivering pulp by a cop if you were to call 911 on the guy breaking into your car, would you ever want to call the cops?

    That’s what the NLRB has become.

  3. 4

    MikeBoyScout spews:


    I commend to you one of Charles P. Pierce posts today:
    Survivalist Nation

    Apparently, the entire Constitution is sacrosanct except the first three words, which is the whole modern conservative project, and its essential paradox, in a nutshell. The Constitution is not a compact between We, The People, or a commitment by us to one another to what the current president calls “the hard, necessary work of self-government. Once you’re already there, it’s no great leap at all to Wayne LaPierre, screaming at the tornadoes and trying to shoot a hurricane to death. It’s where you wanted to be all along. We become a nation of survivalists, alone in the bunkers of our mind, with nothing but empty static on the radio.

    We’ve spent decades listening to propagandists tell us collective bargaining is some kind of evil. Told that it is Communism or Socialism.
    The fact of the matter is that collective bargaining is not only neither, but its ability to meet the needs of Labor, management and capital at a profit for all is what spared this nation the horrors of fascist and Leninist revolution which so convulsed Europe at the beginning of the last century and enabled the fastest economic growth the world had ever seen.

  4. 5

    MikeBoyScout spews:

    And let me make another point here.

    Any manager or owner (i.e. capitalist) who responds with knee jerk reaction against an employee’s right to organize for collective bargaining is cutting their own throat. Amazingly employees know quite a bit about what can make them more productive … for the manager and for the owner.

    One of many possible examples is the Boeing and The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) Ed Wells Initiative.

    Engineers and technical employees also have a resource at their disposal. The Ed Wells Initiative, a joint program of Boeing and SPEEA, was established in 1995 to define jointly ways to improve and make the most of an employee’s skills and interests.

    The Ed Wells Initiative offers SPEEA-represented — and other employees companywide — education, training and career development services, employee utilization programs, and knowledge-sharing resources.

    “Our mission is to improve technical excellence at Boeing continuously by providing opportunities to employees for enhanced education and training, skill utilization and career development,” said Pam Eakins, Boeing co-director of the Ed Wells Initiative. “We believe that employees who take advantage of these offerings develop personally and find more meaningful application of their skills.”

    The Ed Wells Initiative offers a variety of programs and tools. A mentorship program provides resources and a structure for those wanting to establish a comprehensive and guided approach to mentoring. The Career Vector journal offers career advice, as do Career Navigators — employees trained by the Initiative to share career-related information with others. Learning opportunities help employees improve their skills; they also assist managers in matching employee skills and abilities with appropriate and challenging work.

    It wasn’t management or ownership which requested the Ed Wells Initiative which mutually benefits both labor and business. It was the SPEEA union that did that, and it would not exist without the union.

  5. 6

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    4, 5 – You can’t explain anything to conservatives; their minds are closed. They think they have all the answers, so they see no need to listen to anyone else. If their schemes don’t work, it must be the messaging that’s at fault, so they just repackage ideas that haven’t evolved or changed in 100 years. It’s like putting a new “sell-by” date on old hamburger. To them, unions are just a way for lazy and unproductive workers to extort higher wages and benefits from employers, without giving anything in return. Their whole worldview of employees is informed by what employers get in non-union, minimum-wage shops, where nobody except the dregs of the workforce is willing to work. So they think all workers are that way. Yet, when it comes to slapping premium price-tags on their own goods and services, they’re quick to lecture us that “you get what you pay for!” You surely do.

  6. 7

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Many companies treated their workers very badly during the recession. They took advantage of high unemployment to slash wages, ditch benefits, lengthen work hours, and squeeze more productivity out of stressed-out employees to fatten bottom lines that were already flush. And shared none of the gains with those who made them. Possibly there are still some people who don’t realize corporations have been making record profits for several years now. But they’re learning. You better believe there’s going to be a labor backlash against employers, and when it hits, it will be a tsunami. Discontent in workplaces is extremely high. People are already quitting jobs. Managers could find themselves grappling with turnover levels they’ve never experienced before. Companies with bad reputations for mistreating their employees will find themselves shunned by job applicants. And employers that never had unions before will find themselves targets of organizing drives. America’s workplaces haven’t been so fertile for unions in decades. A reckoning is coming.

  7. 9


    This gives, yet again, the lie to libertarian arguments that the market, the marvelous mythical magical market, will bring about justice. C’mon, Theo’s. Did you really think that justice for workers was only for workers who were far away?

  8. 12

    Porter Browning spews:

    Sounds like a case to bring before Judge Colt. Perforated managers disrupt no meetings… Unions and firearms serve the same purpose. They are means to inflict violence on people who have it coming.