Teamsters, Oxfam gang up on Whole Foods for 'abusive' labor practices

'Amazon has the ability and the responsibility to demand Whole Foods and UNFI stop abusing workers and communities'

Teamsters and Oxfam united this week to go after Whole Foods, accusing the Amazon-owned supermarket of violating workers' rights throughout its supply chain.

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In a joint news release on Thursday, the labor union and nonprofit called on Whole Foods to "clean up abusive labor practices in its food supply chain," and urged it to address a labor battle between Teamsters Local Union No. 117 and its largest supplier, United Natural Foods (UNFI).

Teamsters, which does not have a direct relationship with Whole Foods, alleges that, before the holidays, UNFI illegally laid off 200 workers by transferring the work at a distribution center in Tacoma, Washington to another city. A local arbitrator ruled in favor of the workers and for UNFI to honor the Tacoma workers' contracts at the new nonunion site, according to the Tacoma News Tribune. UNFI has appealed that decision.

"Hundreds of families are hurting today, because Whole Foods' partner UNFI is not honoring contract terms that we negotiated and they agreed to, that's unacceptable and we won't stand for it," John Scearcy, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local Union No. 117 said in a statement.

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Although UNFI, which is headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island, distributes to other grocery stores, Whole Foods is one of its most high-profile clients. Teamsters pressed Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and Amazon's Vice President of grocery deliver Stephenie Landry to "call on UNFI CEO Steven Spinner to comply with the arbitrator's decision and stop breaking the law," the news release said.

"Amazon has the ability and the responsibility to demand Whole Foods and UNFI stop abusing workers and communities across its entire supply chain, and honor their commitments to us all," Scearcy said.

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UNFI maintains that it was not a clear "apples to apples" transfer of jobs, but a wholesale revamp and launch of a new distribution center, according to the Tacoma News Tribune. Whole Foods declined to comment on the dispute.

UNFI chief legal counsel Jill Sutton told FOX Business that UNFI offered the "same competitive wages and benefits being provided to the other associates at our non-union Centralia facility."

"It would violate existing labor laws for UNFI to apply Tacoma labor contracts in Centralia," Sutton said. "This would create an unworkable two-tiered system with different rules, requirements, and benefits applying to employees with the same positions and responsibilities."

UNFI has "targeted the creation of more than 500 quality jobs and laid strong roots for long-term success in the Pacific Northwest by consolidating our regional distribution efforts here for the benefit of our customers," Sutton continued.

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Whole Foods -- which has long been an industry leader on fair-trade certified goods, previously came under fire by Oxfam, an international nonprofit that focuses on global poverty. In an October report called "Behind the Barcodes," Oxfam ranked Whole Foods as the worst on workers' rights issues among 10 major supermarkets, including Walmart.

"Whole Foods claims to be a sustainable grocer, yet for over two years hasn't addressed the human rights abuses of food workers and producers in its supply chain," Sarah Zoen, Oxfam senior adviser, said in a statement. "Whole Foods has the potential to lead and we are ready to sit down to work together to make significant change possible."

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In a statement issued during the report's release, a Whole Foods spokesperson said the report did not "accurately reflect Whole Foods Market's long-standing efforts to address human rights and labor issues in our supply chain."

"We have a proven track record of taking immediate action with suppliers when potential concerns surface and remain committed to supply chain transparency and ethical sourcing, which are areas we continue to invest in," the spokesperson said.