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Matt the Engineer 1
Why is there no mention of actual wages at Theo? How are we supposed to judge if they're providing a fair wage if you don't report what the wage is?

I love unions in theory. I hate a lot of what they are in practice. I'll withold judgment until I at least find out how much the workers are currently making.
Posted by Matt the Engineer on February 15, 2013 at 11:10 AM · Report this
2
Thanks for covering this issue Goldy!

@1: According to workers, benefits, possible discriminatory wage disparities, and working conditions were at issue, not necessarily low salaries across the board, but I'd like to know also.
Posted by illiterati on February 15, 2013 at 11:17 AM · Report this
Matt the Engineer 3
I skimmed a bit the first time and missed this: "international standard that explicitly recognizes the right of workers to 'form a trade union of their own choosing and to bargain collectively.'"

That's pretty damning.
Posted by Matt the Engineer on February 15, 2013 at 11:19 AM · Report this
Matt the Engineer 4
@2 They do claim low wages, 7th paragraph. It's usually a central issue - people will put up with a lot if you pay them enough - and that's why I was surprised not to find actual wages listed.
Posted by Matt the Engineer on February 15, 2013 at 11:22 AM · Report this
Goldy 5
@1 Wages were not the motivating factor. It was the changing work conditions after the Whole Foods deal.
Posted by Goldy on February 15, 2013 at 11:28 AM · Report this
6
That's bad, but since non-fair trade cocoa usually involves actual slavery in at least part of the cocoa collection, I generally take fair-trade chocolate to mean I am not supporting children being worked for no wages and beaten if they try to escape. So, basically, the world of chocolate sucks so much that my expectations are still met. I'd like it if we could raise those expectations though.
Posted by uncreative on February 15, 2013 at 11:30 AM · Report this
7
God damn it! This is so depressing. I worked for Borders (in NYC) when they were were union busting and it sucked. Our store (in WTC 5) actually unionized - but due to the fact that Borders would not bargain in good faith employees simply got their union, and union dues, and nothing else. Since the starting salary was $6.50 an hour at the time, it did not feel like a victory. What were seeking as employees? $1 increase in wages (which we did not expect to get) and transportation assistance. Corporations in NYC get HUGE tax subsidies if they participate in the program that provides assistance in transportation costs for their employees. Having 60% of your commuting costs paid for would have been a huge relief for the employees making so little an hourly wage (and commuting from the outer boroughs or New Jersey, like I was). Nope. Nada. Nil. Got nothing. And Borders did offer health insurance plans to their employees - but I don't know one person who worked there that wasn't a manager earning a salary that could afford it. Working there the corporate culture was "we're cool, we're casual, we're fun" and everyone working there had to take a test before being considered for hire - one for books and one for music - you had to have KNOWLEDGE - but that KNOWLEDGE was only worth $6.50 an hour in NEW YORK CITY in the late 1990s.

I love Theo and live in upstate NY now and buy their chocolate from the local co-ops. I like being able to support Seattle from afar. Unfortunately if all of this is true then I am not really supporting Seattle. If all of this is true I won't be buying any more Theo chocolate.
Posted by xina on February 15, 2013 at 11:30 AM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 8
What a piece of shit company if all of this is true. But to be honest; Seattle Chocolate down in Tukwila isn't much better in how it treats it's employees. Low wages, shorting paychecks (accusing employees of not working even though they were clocked in so the floor superivsors would drop hours of an employees timesheet), accusing line employees of not working (all of them are non-English speaking) I don't know if they tried to unionize but while I was there they didn't.

Worse place I ever worked at and the longest 6 months of my life.
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on February 15, 2013 at 11:48 AM · Report this
9
Theo Chocolate talks a good game on social responsibility, but the reality is that they're just another business that cares more about their bottom line than anything else.

For example - in 2010 they actively opposed the candy tax claiming that it would harm their customers (http://www.komonews.com/news/local/93466…)
, which is laughable when you think about the financial capacity of anyone willing to pay $4 for a chocolate bar.

Don't be fooled - Theo Chocolate doesn't care about Fair Trade, doesn't care about it's workers, and doesn't care about their customers. They're just using slogans and marketing hype to sell expensive candy.
Posted by SuperSteve on February 15, 2013 at 11:54 AM · Report this
keshmeshi 10
Sorry, but the Pound Plus chocolate is not adequate. Putting aside concerns about literal slavery, the Pound Plus chocolate is incredibly low quality. I swear every time I made the mistake of buying that crap it tasted rancid. If you must buy cheap, slave-produced chocolate, spring for the $2 Swiss chocolate bars at Trader Joe's. It's still half the price of Theo.

As for the union issue, nothing is going to change without the government taking a more proactive role in quashing anti-union activities. There's too much at stake for companies not to do whatever they can within current law to discourage unionization, and the average American doesn't give enough of a crap for a boycott to work. Look at what Amazon gets away with.
Posted by keshmeshi on February 15, 2013 at 12:07 PM · Report this
Matt the Engineer 11
I think @6 captures why my reaction was so mild. We're talking about bringing 3rd world workers out of virtual or actual slavery. And then we're talking about a good dental plan. I'm an engineer and I don't have a good dental plan.

They're hypocrites, but they're working to bring people out of slavery. Find me a company that's free-trade across the board and I'll switch, but I think you'll have trouble.
Posted by Matt the Engineer on February 15, 2013 at 12:15 PM · Report this
12
I worked years ago for Daniel Smith and the warehouse workers attempted to unionize. Their working conditions weren't so bad, mostly just the feeling that raises or promotions were hard to come by. As soon as word got out about unions, management hired their lawyers, hired a bunch of new employees to increase the amount with out a reason to be disgruntled yet and in one case hired a manager from another department into the warehouse to be a spy I guess. After a few anti-union meetings and please to not breakup our close-knit family the unionizing died away. People quit when they felt they were seen as troublemakers and the former manager went back to his previous job. Not to be overly apathetic, but I think that's just how it is.
Posted by Just a worker on February 15, 2013 at 12:21 PM · Report this
Dougsf 13
@11 - Those Endangered Species chocolate bars make the same fair trade claims, could be worth looking into.
Posted by Dougsf on February 15, 2013 at 12:31 PM · Report this
Matt the Engineer 14
@13 Emailed them. They aren't unionized either.
Posted by Matt the Engineer on February 15, 2013 at 1:15 PM · Report this
Lissa 15
Sigh. God this is depressing.
Posted by Lissa on February 15, 2013 at 1:18 PM · Report this
Hernandez 16
@11 I hate that line of reasoning. "Well, they still have it better than workers in ___, and I have ___ job and don't even have the ___ they're asking for, so screw them for complaining." Yes, they have it better than 3rd world slave labor, and I'm sorry your employer's too cheap to offer a dental plan, but how does that affect their right to demand better working conditions?

This is why the labor movement is crumbling and conditions are getting worse for workers around the country. Instead of saying "all workers should be provided with good working conditions, pay and benefits," we've switched to "as long as there's someone out there worse off than you, screw you for asking for improvements."
Posted by Hernandez http://hernandezlist.blogspot.com on February 15, 2013 at 1:25 PM · Report this
Matt the Engineer 17
@16 I certainly didn't say "screw you" to the workers. I care about them. Just much, much, much less than I care about the people in slavery. Will I boycott a company that's helping people out of slavery because they won't provide good dental care? That's just crazy.
Posted by Matt the Engineer on February 15, 2013 at 1:34 PM · Report this
Theo Chocolate 18
We hope you take the time to read our detailed response to the false accusations made by ILRF: http://bit.ly/Vljpdk. We respect our employees’ rights and have never discriminated against any employees based on their activities or preferences around unions. Our handbook clearly states that our employees are free to engage in a union organizing campaign any time if they wish to do so: http://bit.ly/XcN73B

It appears ILRF, with the support of the Teamsters, released this report primarily to further its own interests in the Fair Trade movement. In a letter to our CEO, Joe Whinney, ILRF Executive Director Judy Gearhart clearly states, “In reality, our issue isn’t with Theo…”

We ask that you consider ILRF’s allegations in the context of our entire track record, and the positive contributions we’ve made both locally and in the global community. It’s simply not within the character of our company to tolerate the mistreatment of our own employees.
Posted by Theo Chocolate on February 15, 2013 at 1:50 PM · Report this
gingersnap 19
I feel like there is a side of the story missing here. Like @1 says, unions are a good idea in theory but in practice they are more like parasites on workers. I've grown skeptical of squeaky wheels over the years and this story deserves a little more time than a slog post. And for the record chocolate should cost money- its cost is artificially low in the marketplace.
Posted by gingersnap on February 15, 2013 at 1:51 PM · Report this
20
Who owns Theo?
Posted by Citizen R on February 15, 2013 at 1:52 PM · Report this
21
Don't be too quick to find Theo Chocolates guilty of the charges. This seems to be more of a publicity stunt to make a local company look bad. Trumped up charges make for great reading, but I am sure the facts will prevail.

The employee handbook is online and the official response brings up a lot of valid points as well. https://www.theochocolate.com/sites/defa…

If the workers still want to unionize, they can head over to 9 Million after work, call a vote and be done with it before last call tonight.

Posted by charger on February 15, 2013 at 2:22 PM · Report this
tainte 22
wait, 3.50 for a kickass chocolate bar is too much? that's about as much as a cup of coffee at a decent coffee shop.

my beef with theo is that they have cut back on their samples at their store. you used to be able to walk in pre-brouwers and sample everything they had for sale on the floor. now they just have a few select samples. weak.
Posted by tainte on February 15, 2013 at 2:28 PM · Report this
23
The charges seem entirely trumped up to me. Take some time and read the response here:
https://www.theochocolate.com/sites/defa…

If the workers truly want to unionize, they are perfectly free to head down to 9 Million after work, hold a vote and be done with it before Happy Hour is over.

Trader Joe's - not unionized. Are you complaining about where the money goes when you shops there?

Starbucks - not unionized. Any concerns about where the profits from your daily fix are going?

Whole Foods - not unionized. You get the idea...

Posted by charger on February 15, 2013 at 2:45 PM · Report this
seatackled 24
@21 @23
charger, I notice you just signed on in the last hour and are posting here for the first time under that monicker. Do you work for Theo Chocolates?
Posted by seatackled on February 15, 2013 at 2:53 PM · Report this
seatackled 25
I request that anyone affiliated with Theo Chocolates who posts here about this topic make that affiliation clear in their posts.

Posted by seatackled on February 15, 2013 at 2:54 PM · Report this
26
Theo's chocolates are gross.
Posted by treehugger on February 15, 2013 at 3:04 PM · Report this
27
Not affiliated, if you were wondering. A friend of mine posted the Stranger article on Facebook earlier today. I usually just read the print version.

I think it's a good idea for people to post any affiliations, whether it's for Theo or for Local 117.

Posted by charger on February 15, 2013 at 3:04 PM · Report this
28
So, the Stranger is now a union paper?

Thought not.

Fucking hypocrites.
Posted by Sugartit on February 15, 2013 at 3:34 PM · Report this
29
Can't remember what it's called, but Trader Joe's sells a very decent, Fair Trade chocolate bar in two varieties — dark and milk — and, like Theo's, NO SOY LECITHIN.
Posted by cheakamus on February 15, 2013 at 3:53 PM · Report this
Sam Levine 30
Do you know the story of your junk food?
Posted by Sam Levine http://levinetech.net on February 15, 2013 at 4:29 PM · Report this
31
it's fair trade not free trade and those chocolates came from a unionized chocolate company.
Posted by hayden3rd on February 15, 2013 at 4:30 PM · Report this
Posted by laterite on February 15, 2013 at 4:36 PM · Report this
33
All of this is truly unbelievable. Theo Chocolate holds the most amount of integrity I've ever experienced in a business and treats ALL employees like god damn royalty. This entire blow up is honestly embarassing for the media because nobody has done their proper research. Theo is not just "fair trade" Theo is above and beyond those very low standards Fair Trade holds in the first place. Sure if you want to support slave labor buy Trader Joes Chocolates for a dollar, along with their made in china canned bullshit: But if you want the REAL DEAL with integrity from the TRUE SOURCE than come peep THEO CHOCOLATE - do your research people, ask Theo employees how they are treated
Posted by infinity206 on February 15, 2013 at 4:48 PM · Report this
34
@16 The point is not that some folks have it worse, so don't bother to care about people who are being mistreated. The point is that most chocolate you buy supports slavery. This chocolate claims to be "fair trade" and in the world of chocolate, the term "fair trade" pretty much means does not support slavery. You want it to mean a lot more than that. And it'd be good if it did. But if you switch to any other chocolate that isn't fair trade, there's a good chance you're supporting keeping kids in literal slavery. And people do not think about that enough.

So, yes, support unions when you can. That'd be great. But this company is still doing better than the average chocolate seller if they are making sure their cocoa supply is slavery-free. We really need to get those basics down to being universal before we can up the expectations of what "fair trade" means. When all chocolate is slavery free, then we can up it to making sure every employee involved is paid a living wage for their area. But we're not there yet. And sadly, just avoiding slavery is a significant thing and something worthy of mentioning on your chocolate if you do it.
Posted by uncreative on February 15, 2013 at 4:51 PM · Report this
35
All of this is truly unbelievable. Theo Chocolate holds the most amount of integrity I've ever experienced in a business and treats ALL employees like god damn royalty. This entire blow up is honestly embarassing for the media because nobody has done their proper research. Theo is not just "fair trade" Theo is above and beyond those very low standards Fair Trade holds in the first place. Sure if you want to support slave labor buy Trader Joes Chocolates for a dollar, along with their made in china canned bullshit: But if you want the REAL DEAL with integrity from the TRUE SOURCE than come peep THEO CHOCOLATE - do your research people, ask Theo employees how they are treated & you will get schooled
Posted by infinity206 on February 15, 2013 at 4:56 PM · Report this
36
Dan Savage has a phrase for "journalists" who swallow one side of the story that applies here: stupid fucking credulous hack.
Posted by bigyaz on February 15, 2013 at 5:13 PM · Report this
37
My guess is that @charger is a union-busting troll, happy to lawyer the meaning of "affiliated" and to redirect the question to Teamster affiliation as well, because unions always hire trolling firms to clog thread discussions.

As for Theo, it's time for some boycott letters to the tune of "if the workers are treated like shite anyway, the buying Lindt at a big box store is a better choice."
Posted by Che Guava on February 15, 2013 at 5:34 PM · Report this
38
So I eat a ton of Theo's chocolate and would obviously like therefore to believe the company. But there are some unhappy-making gaps in their response.

Goldy claims that "By early March, 19 of the 30 Theo workers legally eligible to form a union would ultimately sign cards authorizing union representation" - there's no refutation of that or explanation of how you get from 19 folks signing union cards to a dead organizing drive. There needs to be one.

And then there are these disturbing words in the response from Theo's:

"We have no visibility into whether Mr. Acosta has ever been affiliated with ACG"

WTF is *that* supposed to mean??? They hired him with no knowledge of who he'd worked for? Really? We're supposed to believe they hired this guy without researching where he came from? That seems pretty unbelievable.

The company needs to step up and explain what happened. Maybe there's an acceptable explanation, but so far they haven't made one...
Posted by gregSea on February 15, 2013 at 5:54 PM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 39
I'd like the Stranger to post by each Slogger posting how long the poster has been registered with Slog. It appears there are several Theo employees who just joined Slog today.
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on February 15, 2013 at 5:56 PM · Report this
40
Reason#1 not to buy Theo's chocolates: They are union busting crap-tards.

Reason#2 not to buy Theo's chocolates: They frankly taste like chalk.
Posted by Why are there cars? on February 15, 2013 at 6:20 PM · Report this
41
I adore Theo chocolate. Always have. Give it as gifts, eat it, have taken the tour. And I intend to listen to this. I'd very, very much like to hear from employees who tried to unionize and were bullied into stopping. If I find convincing evidence, I will stop buying from Theo, full stop.

And don't fucking start in on the "unions were important and served their purpose, but now they're self-serving parasites". It's horseshit. States with strong unions have stronger middle classes; states with declining unionization have declining middle classes. It ain't a coincidence. So stuff your "unions historically good, but now baaaad" bullshit. I'll support unions and unionized businesses, thank you very much.
Posted by Missliss on February 15, 2013 at 8:18 PM · Report this
Free Lunch 42
These accusations against Theo (aside from hiring this consultant) sound fishy to me. I was all set to join the witch hunt and got halfway through my screed, but then I looked at Theo's employee handbook that @18 referenced.

They treat their employees very generously from a benefits standpoint, with health, disability, and life insurance for those who work just 28hrs/week.

Plus, seven paid holidays AND fairly generous paid-time-off. (You earn an hour of it for every 17.33 worked, so a 28-hour/week employee gets 10.75 days of PTO.) I didn't hear any accusations that they were short-timing their employees to avoid giving them that, either.

No dental, but Jesus, talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth. This is the right way to avoid unions, by the way, and it's why places like Trader Joe's aren't unionized.

Sounds like a minority at Theo wanted it, and the majority didn't - specifically because they are treated well. This does not sound like the imminent threat that would warrant the kind of response Theo is accused of.

I'd be curious to hear what this consultant's advice is to companies trying to avoid unions. I doubt any such consultant would advise illegal activities. Sounds like they hired him just out of due diligence, because no employer - good or bad - wants a union interfering with the way they want to run their business.

I'm all for unions when their role is fighting against asshole employers. But I don't want or need one where I work (a software company), because we are fucking pampered. Sounds like the employees at Theo don't have it too rough, either.
Posted by Free Lunch on February 15, 2013 at 9:26 PM · Report this
Chris Govella 43
solidarity forever.
Posted by Chris Govella http://blog.chrisgovella.net on February 15, 2013 at 10:41 PM · Report this
Zurls 44
"FREE TRADE COMPANY HIRES UNION-BUSTING CONSULTANT". That's really all you need to know. All the points being made here by unnamed Theo's employees and hired thugs about wages or what not are crap. Is the company selling a product to folks based on the claim that they are "Fair Trade"? Yes. Has that same company participated in union-busting activities (i.e. hiring anti-union consultants, harassing organizers, intimidation, etc.) ? Yes. THEN THEY'RE NOT PRACTICING FREAKIN' FREE TRADE!!!! Plus they are just fucking stupid to pull THAT kind of shit knowing their client base. Let the shit storm commence...
Posted by Zurls on February 16, 2013 at 1:19 AM · Report this
45
Maybe some basic clarification is in order here.
Modern industrial food production is factory work. Whatever the intrinsic qualities of the product, the work itself is pretty much the same. Long hours in a noisy and uncomfortable environment performing strenuous repetitive tasks. This is not "chocolate art". These are not "chocolate artisans". The piercings come out. The hairnets (and beard nets) go on. And the work begins same as it ever was.

Big grocery retailers like Whole Foods bargain hard. They have to. The live on razor thin margins and they have to count every penny. To manufacturers like Theo they typically offer a much thinner markup then they usually get. But they promise to make it up in volume. And there's the rub. If a manufacturer can't whittle down their costs enough to turn a profit on the larger volume they run themselves out of business. So you celebrate closing on the big account. You make lots of big splashy announcements promising tremendous growth opportunitites for all. And then you push everyone to their limit of endurance and hope like hell it all works out.

If it does, then most of the "opportunity" and "growth" redound to the sales and marketing staff. Bonuses for NAMs, etc. All the workers on the floor experience are some goal-oriented production charts on the wall featuring stupid graphics and long hours of the same. Work schedules become at the same time crazy variable and rigidly inflexible. Suddenly you get moved to overnights. One day you work 14 straight, only to have it cut at the end of the week. Suddenly you have to put in vacation requests four weeks in advance instead of two. And more of your requests are denied. You miss important events. Like wedding rehersals. And graduations. Your kid gets sick and you have to go get them from school, and the next day you are being written up.

It's not that anyone in such a system is cruel or evil. It's just that at every step on the ladder every participant is trying to push the sacrifices down a rung. The reason manufacturing workers organize is to push back. The reason Fair Trade orgs are created is to push back.
More...
Posted by BigEpoisses on February 16, 2013 at 9:04 AM · Report this
46
The entire Fair Trade stuff is an almost complete sham.

Sure, there's the infrequent or occasional positive result, but by and large it's all about globalization and the privatization of everything, which is exactly what the chair of that Fair Trade organization has been promoting whenever you hear him speak.
Posted by sgt_doom on February 16, 2013 at 10:37 AM · Report this
47
I have to think that this union organization was before Theo carried insurance, etc. I applied for a job as assistant to the head chocolate maker several years ago, and the pay was $10.00/hour with NO benefits. I was expected to regularly lift 50 pound bags of product but there was no contingency if this heavy weight injured me.
Posted by anita772 on February 16, 2013 at 1:43 PM · Report this
48
A working link to the ILRF report: http://laborrights.org/freedom-at-work/r…

Page 4: "More than half of Theo’s non-management employees attended the next organizing meeting on February 27. Workers shared their common concerns about safety
issues in the factory, short notice shift and furlough changes, untenable workloads,
low wages, lack of transparency about hiring, discipline and promotion practices,
subpar health care coverage, lack of respectful treatment by management and
suspicion of wage discrimination against non-English speaking workers. By the end
of the meeting a majority of Theo Chocolate workers signed cards expressing their
support for union representation. Ultimately, 19 of 30 workers eligible to form a
union would sign cards authorizing union representation.
Posted by anon1256 on February 17, 2013 at 4:22 PM · Report this
49
on top of all the other false accusations made in this poorly writen article, Theo Chocolate employees DO HAVE DENTAL CARE- do your fucking research Goldy
Posted by infinity206 on February 17, 2013 at 5:04 PM · Report this
50
Fair trade not free trade!!! there is a HUGE difference
Posted by hayden3rd on February 18, 2013 at 7:41 AM · Report this
51
I would encourage readers to read the full report, compiled with the help of the University of Washington Law School scholards: http://laborrights.org/features/ilrf-rep…

I took great pride in my job at Theo Chocolate as a tour guide for 3.5 years. I have a deep love for my customers, and share their desire for better treatment for cocoa producers. I was active in Fair Trade Seattle, an advocacy group, and helped plan the Trade Justice section of the Northwest Chocolate Festival before and after the union bust happened.

It was a challenge for me to decided to come forward about the union-bust and lack of response from IMO Fair for Life, but ultimately, this issue is bigger than me, bigger than dental plans, bigger than wages, which were not our main motivation for forming the union anyway. I chose to come forward because I believe a better Fair Trade and a better Theo are possible.

As a college-educated English-speaking white woman living in the US with access to a computer, I couldn't get Fair Trade standards to be upheld for me. So are they really being upheld for the Burkinabe child-migrant laborer in the cocoa fields of West Africa who doesn't speak English, has never seen a computer, has never even tasted chocolate? It's not me versus the children in the cocoa fields - an injury to one is an injury to all. I'm fighting for them in bringing this failure to light. I'm hoping we can learn from it, heal it, and improve the system. The structure of management-funded Fair Trade as it now stands is fundamentally broken - my former customers, who pour their hearts into that $4, deserve better.

Theo discredits the report, and has done their best to discredit me personally, but what is indisputable and well-documented in publicly accessible government records is:

1. 19 of 31 organizable workers at Theo at the time signed union affiliation cards, desiring to form a union.

2. Theo chocolate then hired a professional union avoidance consultant, David Acosta, from American Consulting, who was paid more than $300 an hour to deter workers from this effort.

Whether I am justified in my support for a union or not is irrelevant - running an anti-union campaign is a prima fascia violation of Fair Trade standards.

Theo claims they are already implementing the requests brought forward by ILRF. If that's the case, what is there to lose by talking it out formally? Whether current workers desire a union or not is their prerogative. All the report calls for is a safe space where they can exercise this right free from fear of reprimand.

We don't wish Theo any harm. What we want from them is integrity. If Theo will agree to talk it out in arbitration and make good on the requests laid out in the report, I will, once again, become a huge and vocal advocate of their brand, as would other bodies engaged in this effort, like the Organic Consumers Association.

I do wish this debate focused a bit more on the Fair Trade certifier, IMO Fair for Life, as I find them to be the less forgivable of the two parties implicated.

IMO Fair for Life has done nothing to remedy the situation. They had been contacted over phone, email, at a conference by workers themselves multiple times, as well as by supporters in the Fair Trade and labor movement, before, during, and after the union drive. They've not even responded publicly to the report. If they promise consumers to uphold workers rights as the second most important standard after slavery-free, they damn well better do it, or they're undermining the power of all the well-meaning consumers I took pride in serving as a retail worker. Unless there are serious changes from IMO, it seems unlikely that they are fit to continue in their role of "independent" monitor of fairness.
More...
Posted by taberrachel@gmail.com on February 18, 2013 at 7:53 AM · Report this
52
I would encourage readers to read the full report, compiled with the help of the University of Washington Law School scholards: http://laborrights.org/features/ilrf-rep…

I took great pride in my job at Theo Chocolate as a tour guide for 3.5 years. I have a deep love for my customers, and share their desire for better treatment for cocoa producers. I was active in Fair Trade Seattle, an advocacy group, and helped plan the Trade Justice section of the Northwest Chocolate Festival before and after the union bust happened.

It was a challenge for me to decided to come forward about the union-bust and lack of response from IMO Fair for Life, but ultimately, this issue is bigger than me, bigger than dental plans, bigger than wages, which were not our main motivation for forming the union anyway. I chose to come forward because I believe a better Fair Trade and a better Theo are possible.

As a college-educated English-speaking white woman living in the US with access to a computer, I couldn't get Fair Trade standards to be upheld for me. So are they really being upheld for the Burkinabe child-migrant laborer in the cocoa fields of West Africa who doesn't speak English, has never seen a computer, has never even tasted chocolate? It's not me versus the children in the cocoa fields - an injury to one is an injury to all. I'm fighting for them in bringing this failure to light. I'm hoping we can learn from it, heal it, and improve the system. The structure of management-funded Fair Trade as it now stands is fundamentally broken - my former customers, who pour their hearts into that $4, deserve better.

Theo discredits the report, and has done their best to discredit me personally, but what is indisputable and well-documented in publicly accessible government records is:

1. 19 of 31 organizable workers at Theo at the time signed union affiliation cards, desiring to form a union.

2. Theo chocolate then hired a professional union avoidance consultant, David Acosta, from American Consulting, who was paid more than $300 an hour to deter workers from this effort.

Whether I am justified in my support for a union or not is irrelevant - running an anti-union campaign is a prima fascia violation of Fair Trade standards.

Theo claims they are already implementing the requests brought forward by ILRF. If that's the case, what is there to lose by talking it out formally? Whether current workers desire a union or not is their prerogative. All the report calls for is a safe space where they can exercise this right free from fear of reprimand.

We don't wish Theo any harm. What we want from them is integrity. If Theo will agree to talk it out in arbitration and make good on the requests laid out in the report, I will, once again, become a huge and vocal advocate of their brand, as would other bodies engaged in this effort, like the Organic Consumers Association.

I do wish this debate focused a bit more on the Fair Trade certifier, IMO Fair for Life, as I find them to be the less forgivable of the two parties implicated.

IMO Fair for Life has done nothing to remedy the situation. They had been contacted over phone, email, at a conference by workers themselves multiple times, as well as by supporters in the Fair Trade and labor movement, before, during, and after the union drive. They've not even responded publicly to the report. If they promise consumers to uphold workers rights as the second most important standard after slavery-free, they damn well better do it, or they're undermining the power of all the well-meaning consumers I took pride in serving as a retail worker. Unless there are serious changes from IMO, it seems unlikely that they are fit to continue in their role of "independent" monitor of fairness.
More...
Posted by taberrachel@gmail.com on February 18, 2013 at 7:59 AM · Report this
53
Also - @42 and @49 - you might want to familiarize yourselves with the concept of bargaining power. For years, employees at Theo Chocolate pushed for these important benefits with no results. They were provided as concessions when Theo wanted to placate employees *after* the union drive. So was Theo magnanimously providing these things? Or did worker organizing hold them accountable to improve the workplace?

Moreover - a handbook, like Fair Trade standards, like law, is little more than a piece of paper if not followed. I genuinely hope that Theo workers have a better workplace than the one I left because of the union bust. However, Theo and IMO did not follow the standards outlined under their own Fair Trade policy, they did not fully follow US Labor Law, and they did not follow international labor regulations. So what assurance do you have that they will actually follow the lovely handbook they wrote and publicized? It seems to me - like most of what Theo promises - more of a PR stunt than a genuine commitment.
Posted by taberrachel@gmail.com on February 18, 2013 at 8:09 AM · Report this
54
I am a former Theo retail store employee and factory tour guide who left the company voluntarily and on good terms, to pursue a career in a related field. I was working at Theo when the union bust occurred, and I am deeply disappointed in the way Theo has handled this situation. I'd like to add my voice to the conversation and hopefully clarify a few of the statements that have been made.

First, the allegations that Theo brought in a third-party consultant who ultimately did discourage employees from forming a union is true. The meetings with this consultant were voluntary but encouraged.

Second, the employee handbook many of you are referencing was written AFTER the union bust occurred. There was no employee handbook prior to these events.

Third, Theo had been, in the early months of 2009, guilty of some unfairness towards its employees, particularly in the manufacturing departments. Theo was in fact severely impacted when the recession hit that year, but the unfairnesses were already happening before the recession. Theo's claim that the recession was the cause is not entirely accurate.

Fourth, Theo employees - including myself - did sign a statement regarding their decision against forming a union in the fall of 2010. However, this statement was drafted not by the Theo manufacturing workforce but by a member of the marketing team, who hand-delivered the statement to each department requesting voluntary signatures. The tactic felt divisive and intimidating; I was afraid that if I did not sign it I would be the subject of anger and resentment from upper management, which is how I saw the vocal pro-union employees being treated. I now feel uncomfortable with my decision to sign the statement and wish I hadn't.

Finally, I do not feel that that either the ILRF or Theo is offering an ideal amount of honesty and transparency. While there were some issues and unfairness, the ILRF report uses flawed methodology and does exaggerate some aspects of the situation. The ILRF report does not speak to the experiences of the majority of Theo employees. At the same time, Theo has made mistakes in its rapid growth. I am disappointed that Theo maintains its claim that social responsibility is their bottom line, when in reality Theo is a business, and the goal of a business is and always will be to increase profits. I would like to see Theo own up to their mistakes, and I'm glad this is coming out in public so that Theo can be held responsible for their actions.

I feel that Theo could be a great company, and that a healthy, well-rounded discourse on
these issues is of great benefit for the community and current and former employees. I would like to see Theo move on from this issue with even more respect from the community, and that is only possible if they choose admit to the public--and themselves--that they were wrong in using the tactics they did in discouraging the formation of a union.
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Posted by FormerTheoEmployee on February 18, 2013 at 9:58 AM · Report this
55
I am a former Theo retail store employee and factory tour guide who left the company voluntarily and on good terms, to pursue a career in a related field. I was working at Theo when the union bust occurred, and I am deeply disappointed in the way Theo has handled this situation. I'd like to add my voice to the conversation and hopefully clarify a few of the statements that have been made.

First, the allegations that Theo brought in a third-party consultant who ultimately did discourage employees from forming a union is true. The meetings with this consultant were voluntary but encouraged.

Second, the employee handbook many of you are referencing was written AFTER the union bust occurred. There was no employee handbook prior to these events.

Third, Theo had been, in the early months of 2009, guilty of some unfairness towards its employees, particularly in the manufacturing departments. Theo was in fact severely impacted when the recession hit that year, but the unfairnesses were already happening before the recession. Theo's claim that the recession was the cause is not entirely accurate.

Fourth, Theo employees - including myself - did sign a statement regarding their decision against forming a union in the fall of 2010. However, this statement was drafted not by the Theo manufacturing workforce but by a member of the marketing team, who hand-delivered the statement to each department requesting voluntary signatures. The tactic felt divisive and intimidating; I was afraid that if I did not sign it I would be the subject of anger and resentment from upper management, which is how I saw the vocal pro-union employees being treated. I now feel uncomfortable with my decision to sign the statement and wish I hadn't.

Finally, I do not feel that that either the ILRF or Theo is offering an ideal amount of honesty and transparency. While there were some issues and unfairness, the ILRF report uses flawed methodology and does exaggerate some aspects of the situation. The ILRF report does not speak to the experiences of the majority of Theo employees. At the same time, Theo has made mistakes in its rapid growth. I am disappointed that Theo maintains its claim that social responsibility is their bottom line, when in reality Theo is a business, and the goal of a business is and always will be to increase profits. I would like to see Theo own up to their mistakes, and I'm glad this is coming out in public so that Theo can be held responsible for their actions.

I feel that Theo could be a great company, and that a healthy, well-rounded discourse on
these issues is of great benefit for the community and current and former employees. I would like to see Theo move on from this issue with even more respect from the community, and that is only possible if they choose admit to the public--and themselves--that they were wrong in using the tactics they did in discouraging the formation of a union.
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Posted by FormerTheoEmployee on February 18, 2013 at 10:08 AM · Report this
56
@55 Let walk through your complaints.

1) The company hired a consultant. So? Presumably the union has consultants as well.

2) I agree that Theo is dishonest to talk so much about the handbook in their response if it was written after the organizing drive.

3) What kind of unfairness? This is the real heart of the issue, after all.

4) What was the basis for your fear? Did you witness other employees being harassed? Did something your manager said imply that it would be bad for you to refuse to sign?

I have trouble respecting someone who wants a union, but only if they don't ever have to actually stand up to management. How are you expecting to hold your own in negotiations if you do unionize?

Posted by Asbel on February 18, 2013 at 10:49 AM · Report this
57
@56 I was never intending to join the union in the first place. My complaints stem from Theo's discouragement of other employees forming a union, which is explicitly against IMO's fair trade requirements, and the way that Theo has chosen to handle the situation.

1) My comment is worded intentionally without reference to whether or not the consultant was a union buster employed by ACG as accused. I do not personally know whether or not David Acosta was employed by ACG, who hired him, or why. All I know is that he was there, and we were encouraged to go the meetings, and many people left the meeting feeling they had been discouraged to form a union.

3) The ILRF report mentions the cases of unfairness, as discussed at the early meetings of union formation. I did not personally attend these meetings, and I do not feel comfortable discussing complaints I heard from coworkers. The heart of the issue is not whether or not Theo was unfair prior to the union bust, it's that they busted a union in the first place and that is in direct violation of IMO's fair trade principles.

4) Emotions were running high during that time, and many people on both sides were visibly upset. The fear I had (as did other employees at the time) of not signing the document was due to a visible, palpable anger and upset coming from upper management. Yes, I did see the outspoken pro-union employees treated with little respect and a lot of anger. I suspected that if I didn't sign that document I would be treated with the same disrespectful attitude. If you're imagining that we were directly forced to sign the document with some kind of ultimatum, we weren't. However, the document created a "for-or-against" division, and those of us who didn't necessarily agree with document felt we had to sign it or else face the kind of painful work environment we saw our coworkers experiencing. It's the "emotional blackmail" referred to in the above article.
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Posted by FormerTheoEmployee on February 18, 2013 at 12:25 PM · Report this
58
I worked with @55 at Theo, also left to pursue my own career objectives, and would like to add to this discourse, as I feel that neither Theo nor the report issued by the ILRF are offering true transparency. Further I am extremely disappointed to see this report published in so many local news outlets without ANYONE reaching out to any current or former Theo employees aside from the lone former employee who assisted in creating the ILRF report.

The allegations that Theo hired a consultant to discourage employees from forming a union, and that upper management responded to the attempts of employees to organize in an overly emotional, unprofessional way are true - though a bit exaggerated by the report. @56, the referenced "unfairness" had to do with wage/responsibility discrepancies within certain departments, and specific injury/safety complaints. These issues were - in my opinion and observation - the result of a company growing without consistent organization and strategy. The Theo Employee Handbook did NOT exist until after the failed union organization attempt, at which time an alternative collective bargaining strategy (which ultimately catastrophically failed) was also implemented. That said, the ILRF report's methodology is inherently flawed, as they have indeed refused to visit Theo and are using information gathered from only one, or possibly two, former Theo employees who were in fact treated very unfairly and are very emotionally invested in this report. No one from the ILRF - to my knowledge - has attempted to contact any other members of the Theo workforce who were employed in 2010 or since to research actual working conditions and opinions. That is neither sound nor objective methodology by any stretch of the imagination, and creates a document that is as sensationalized as the media coverage is unfortunately becoming.

I also signed the letter/petition which Theo is now referencing in their defense. I was a very new employee, and while I do not necessarily think that coercion was intentional, being approached by a senior marketing official and asked if I wanted to sign in the middle of the workday did not make me feel as autonomous as would, say, an email sent to all employees to let us know the letter was available in the break room for those who wanted to sign at their leisure. In hindsight, now that I see this letter being brandished as a shield by Theo, I am extremely uncomfortable at my decision to sign it. The letter was indeed the idea and creation of Theo upper management, NOT that of the workforce at large. @56 - the "fear" that we may have experienced in choosing to sign the letter is more of a generalized peer pressure to be a part of the Theo company and always be supporting the mission of the company. People at Theo are very emotionally invested in the business, and do tend to take disagreement personally.

I am sad that would could be a very productive discourse for the parties involved and for the community is becoming a He Said She Said battle between two overly stubborn participants, with the media taking the bait and not doing any investigative reporting. Theo does not deserve to be boycotted or wholly lose the community's trust over this issue - but it is rapidly escalating when an acknowledgement of mistakes made and apologies to those who clearly still feel they need them would be much simpler and more honest. That said, this report does not speak for the majority of Theo employees past and present, and I can say with all honesty that I had an overall positive experience working for this company. I was paid an above-average wage, and given fantastically generous holiday bonuses and other benefits. It is a company for which I have a lot of respect, which like any other good company or good person, made a few small mistakes which should not destroy their reputation.
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Posted by FormerTheo2 on February 18, 2013 at 12:40 PM · Report this
59
I worked with @55 at Theo, also left to pursue my own career objectives, and would like to add to this discourse, as I feel that neither Theo nor the report issued by the ILRF are offering true transparency. Further I am extremely disappointed to see this report published in so many local news outlets without ANYONE reaching out to any current or former Theo employees aside from the lone former employee who assisted in creating the ILRF report.

The allegations that Theo hired a consultant to discourage employees from forming a union, and that upper management responded to the attempts of employees to organize in an overly emotional, unprofessional way are true - though a bit exaggerated by the report. @56, the referenced "unfairness" had to do with wage/responsibility discrepancies within certain departments, and specific injury/safety complaints. These issues were - in my opinion and observation - the result of a company growing without consistent organization and strategy. The Theo Employee Handbook did NOT exist until after the failed union organization attempt, at which time an alternative collective bargaining strategy (which ultimately catastrophically failed) was also implemented. That said, the ILRF report's methodology is inherently flawed, as they have indeed refused to visit Theo and are using information gathered from only one, or possibly two, former Theo employees who were in fact treated very unfairly and are very emotionally invested in this report. No one from the ILRF - to my knowledge - has attempted to contact any other members of the Theo workforce who were employed in 2010 or since to research actual working conditions and opinions. That is neither sound nor objective methodology by any stretch of the imagination, and creates a document that is as sensationalized as the media coverage is unfortunately becoming.

I also signed the letter/petition which Theo is now referencing in their defense. I was a very new employee, and while I do not necessarily think that coercion was intentional, being approached by a senior marketing official and asked if I wanted to sign in the middle of the workday did not make me feel as autonomous as would, say, an email sent to all employees to let us know the letter was available in the break room for those who wanted to sign at their leisure. In hindsight, now that I see this letter being brandished as a shield by Theo, I am extremely uncomfortable at my decision to sign it. The letter was indeed the idea and creation of Theo upper management, NOT that of the workforce at large. @56 - the "fear" that we may have experienced in choosing to sign the letter is more of a generalized peer pressure to be a part of the Theo company and always be supporting the mission of the company. People at Theo are very emotionally invested in the business, and do tend to take disagreement personally.

I am sad that would could be a very productive discourse for the parties involved and for the community is becoming a He Said She Said battle between two overly stubborn participants, with the media taking the bait and not doing any investigative reporting. Theo does not deserve to be boycotted or wholly lose the community's trust over this issue - but it is rapidly escalating when an acknowledgement of mistakes made and apologies to those who clearly still feel they need them would be much simpler and more honest. That said, this report does not speak for the majority of Theo employees past and present, and I can say with all honesty that I had an overall positive experience working for this company. I was paid an above-average wage, and given fantastically generous holiday bonuses and other benefits. It is a company for which I have a lot of respect, which like any other good company or good person, made a few small mistakes which should not destroy their reputation.
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Posted by FormerTheo2 on February 18, 2013 at 12:42 PM · Report this
60
@55, thanks for clarifying.

@56, it really does not matter a flying fuck in what exact manner the company discouraged the formation of a union. Employee unions and collective barganing are *the only effective tool* that the labor side has in improving working conditions, so how union suppresion happens is immaterial. What is relevant is that management *does not want* an equal relationship with labor, and *that itself* is illegal, immoral, and counter to any possible definition of fair trade.

If a company is billing itself as fair trade, that company must *actively encourage* collective bargaining. Anything else - from indifference to suppression - is fraudulent in a free trade model, full stop.
Posted by happyhedonist on February 18, 2013 at 1:35 PM · Report this
litlnemo 61
"I'm an engineer and I don't have a good dental plan."

Sounds like you need a union, then.

Theo is off my shopping list, period.

They aren't the only local organization to hire union-busting consultants in the last few years, by the way...
Posted by litlnemo http://slumberland.org/ on February 18, 2013 at 2:02 PM · Report this
62
@60 Of course it matters. It is not illegal for a company to say to its workers that they believe that a union is not a good idea. It is illegal for them to say or imply that the workers will be fired if they vote for a union. Somewhere in between those extremes is the legal limit of what a company can do.

And how is it an equal relationship with labor if the union can bring in outside experts and money to lobby the workers, but the company is not allowed to do the same?

Posted by Asbel on February 18, 2013 at 3:20 PM · Report this
TheMisanthrope 63
Holy fuck. Thanks for this Goldy.

I've never been unionized, but I've been fortunate enough to work for companies that at least try to treat their employees fairly.

I can understand a company trying not to unionize. Especially when they're such a small company (50 employees at most?). The problem is that the employees wanted to unionize and Theo's engaged in tactics to destroy that union, while still claiming to be "free trade."

I completely agree with the letter's wording. The problem isn't Theo's Chocolate itself. Their fairness/unfairness hasn't been set in stone for me, dental plan aside. But, the problem is their claiming free trade while union busting.

As a side note, a company doesn't have to have a union to treat its employees fairly. If the employees think their company is doing a fine job, then they don't really need to pay into a union. Unions are more to keep a company in check and treating employees fairly.
Posted by TheMisanthrope on February 18, 2013 at 4:52 PM · Report this
64
@55 and @58 - Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I think public discourse on this issue is the best way to heal what happened, and respect your input, and am grateful you have shared.

To clarify - some background on how the report was conducted, a clarification of action labor and Fair Trade supporters should take, and a redirection of the focus to IMO - the true culprit in this scenario:

1.) Scholars at the University of Washington Law School compiled the report through checking public records and interviewing many current and former Theo employees who were involved at the time of the union bust. Many more reviewed and approved the report before it was published. It's obviously a sensitive subject to investigate: many workers declined to participate, some fearing reprimand, others wishing to leave this painful chapter of life behind them, others having friends on both sides of the issue don't want the full truth of what happened to be publicly disclosed because of the implications of the public knowing the truth.

The report is based on the testimony of well over a quarter of the workforce eligible to form the union at the time of the bust. If people disagree with specific details in the report, I invite them to compile their own account with similar due-diligence, including interviews and the backing of legal and public records. Or feel free to email me directly with specific corrections that are important to you. If you wish to be interviewed on what happened, maybe we could include your testimony in the report in an addendum. My intention in coming forward with this information is to give consumers and Fair Trade advocates a true account of the failure of Fair Trade, so that they can make informed decisions about how to best secure socially responsible products going forward.

2.) Let me clarify that no one, including myself, has called for a consumer boycott of Theo Chocolate, yet. What we're calling for is for Theo to talk it out in arbitration with the parties involved to make good on their mistakes. This shouldn't be too hard, based on what Theo has said in their public statements. I and the others involved in the report have absolutely no desire to hurt Theo. What we want is a better, more accountable Theo, true to what it's consumers believe in, and more importantly, a legitimate Fair Trade.

I would encourage concerned citizens to voice their feelings directly to Theo and encourage them to make good on their mistakes by agreeing to arbitration, and ask their local vendors of Theo to do the same. This is infinitely more useful than boycotting Theo as an individual consumer. Let's hope Theo cooperates with this simple step so that boycotts and contract cuts will not be necessary.

If Theo agrees to basic steps to right their wrongs, they will become a poster child of Fair Trade. There's nothing to lose by agreeing to talk it out, unless they have more to hide than they are letting on.

3.) I would encourage consumers to focus on the true villain in this scenario - IMO Fair for Life.

We can expect that businesses, however warm and fuzzy their marketing, will always be true to their bottom line: profits for their investors. That's what businesses do. That's what they're legally accountable to do. That's why checks and balances on management, like unions, are necessary.

However, IMO Fair for Life is a disgrace, because they covered up the truth, which undermined a better solution. They have not even publicly responded on the issue. They never documented the union bust, which UW scholars did with relative ease. They granted Theo Fair Trade status even though they were aware the bust had occurred well before doing so. They watered down their standards in the wake of public outcry about the Theo situation.

This is probably because, while they claim to advocate for farmers, workers, and consumers, they are paid by the management of brands: no one bites the hand that feeds them. Their certification was completely ineffective in this scenario, and with this severe conflict of interest, it's unlikely that it will be of any use in any scenario without substantial oversight from the public and legally binding checks and balances on IMO's conduct.

This is very unfortunate. Not only is this harmful to well-meaning consumers, farmers, and workers, but it's harmful to the good businesses out there that IMO certifies. Not all Fair Trade businesses are covering up scandals as grave as Theo's. But the value of their Fair Trade certification is being lowered by IMO failing in this case.
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Posted by taberrachel@gmail.com on February 19, 2013 at 9:05 AM · Report this
65
I am and have been a proud Theo employee since 2007. The fact that so many have chose to believe the ILRF article breaks my heart. It is based on the opinion of a few people without any hard research. The ILRF didn’t take into account any current views of Theo employees nor did it accept the invitation to visit the factory when invited.
As a current Theo employee I am constantly amazed at the continued transparency and integrity of the company. Theo is always pushing for increased transparency in the fair trade and chocolate industry. As the company has grown, so has our mission and capabilities to fulfill it. Theo has always valued our community, both afar and here in Seattle. I have worked in many departments at Theo and know that the company values the quality of life for both our cocoa farmers and our factory employees. We have made partnerships with non-profits that benefit our cocoa farming communities. We have posted our bean pricing matrix online to show both consumers and farmers what we will pay for beans based on quality (better quality, more pay) (please also note that the lowest Theo will pay is already higher than fair trade minimum standards). To my knowledge, no other chocolate company is positing what they are paying, nor are they willing to be this transparent.
Here at the factory, Theo listens to the employees. I have a voice and I know there are ears to hear and consider my opinion. Theo pays employees fair wages based within the realm of the job position pay range and performance reviews. There is opportunity for pay raises and promotion. Since 2007 I have grown within the company and am provided tools to continue to grow and voice my ideas of where I would like my career to go.
As Theo has grown, so has our resources and ability to continue increasing benefits to our company. We receive health care, paid time off, and recently have acquired a 401k program. Theo has bi-monthly cross-departmental meetings where employees are given a voice to continue Theo’s growth. We are encouraged to brainstorm and share what would make Theo even better. Already we have seen many positive outcomes from these meetings, especially improvements to bike racks, locker rooms, and inter-departmental communication.
I have watched the company grow for over five and half years and I am so proud of how our mission never strays but grows stronger every day. The recent damning article by the ILRF has caused great stress among many Theo employees. Nonetheless, my pride in Theo has strengthened after watching how my co-workers are supporting each other with the increase of negativity targeted toward Theo. This weekend, management dropped by Theo on their days off just make sure employees felt supported. It means a lot to me that a manager from another department would come by just see how we are doing.
I have immense gratitude to Theo employees, including management and executives, for making my work enjoyable. I am grateful for having a place of work where I look forward to coming to everyday and where I feel supported and valued. Thank you to our customer base who have continued to stick by our side after this past week.
Please also note that this is all based on my experience as an employee and is posted of my own free will without being requested to do so.
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Posted by CurrentTheoEmployee on February 19, 2013 at 10:42 AM · Report this
66
@65, Thanks for your comments. I would have said something similar when I worked there, and I have no doubt that things have vastly improved since the events in question. I am concerned mainly for those who did contribute to the creation of the ILRF report and did have negative experiences. They very well may have interviewed current employees who were involved at the time without your knowledge (comment 64 would indicate such). Having gained some distance from both Theo and the union bust, I can see more clearly that Theo did in fact discourage the creation of union, which is against IMO's rules. I agree with @64 that IMO is the real culprit here, and it's definitely time to take a good hard look at fair trade certification companies to see what they're actually doing.

I miss and love everyone I worked with at Theo, so please do not take my comments personally. Even though I'm not sure who you are, I am sure that you're one of the awesome people I had the pleasure of working with. I feel that by stepping up to contribute my experience, I am doing the right thing. There was never a resolution from the events in 2010, and I'd like to see this come to some sort of closure.
Posted by FormerTheoEmployee on February 19, 2013 at 11:34 AM · Report this
67
@64 - thanks for the clarification, I had no idea that interviews had taken place, so I retract my criticism of the report's methodology. I know you're not calling for a boycott - that was a response for the public at large. Based on the comments left on Theo's facebook page and this comment thread, it looks like Theo is losing a lot of customers.

I also wholeheartedly agree that IMO and fair trade organizations in general are due for a serious calling out. IMO conducted an 'investigation' at Theo based on the incidents in 2010, and I have to admit that I was pretty surprised when the inspection went off seemingly without a hitch. I thought for sure there would be some drama over what had happened with the organization attempt, but apparently the letter that we all signed (but didn't draft ourselves) was enough to placate them. Is Theo doing a significantly better job at producing outstanding chocolate while trying to improve the lives of those involved in the process than most other companies? Absolutely without question. But is the fair trade model and the organizations enforcing its ideals extremely flawed? Absolutely.

@66 - I second all of that.
Posted by FormerTheo2 on February 19, 2013 at 2:36 PM · Report this
68
Hey @66 and @65. I'm glad to hear things are improving at Theo in the wake of the union drive - that's what I would have hoped for you all, because, as anyone who worked with me or came on my tours would know, I too really loved my coworkers and customers, so so much. That was the only reason coworkers and I ever bothered to invest time and energy into forming a union to begin with, rather than just quitting.

If things truly are so much better, why do you think Theo is so afraid to talk it out with ILRF to formalize and publicly announce that?

If Theo simply agrees to formally implement a few small positive steps, which they say they are already doing, then they'll become a poster child of the Fair Trade and labor movement - an example to aspire to. Why are they so resistent to meeting with the parties asking them to do so?

If Theo would do this, we can could resolve the issue and all focus together on calling IMO out. I know Theo and specifically Joe Whinney has been a vocal critic of conflicts of interest in the Fair Trade USA/Transfair Fair Trade program, and rightly so. So surely Theo management can understand the need to improve IMO as well, right?

If you think the report is flawed, please do point out the specific facts that are incorrect. I keep hearing that it's biased and exaggerated, but no one has yet offered any specific details that are untrue. Please know that you are invited to share your testimony -more discussion in the public realm will only help everyone find the right solution. I would be totally happy to connect you with the University of Washington legal team that researched and compiled the report. However, I really doubt they are off in their findings. While Theo management definitely has an interest in protecting their business, and I definitely have an interest in upholding the integrity of Fair Trade, what motive would a neutral, academic legal team have to misreport events?
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Posted by taberrachel@gmail.com on February 20, 2013 at 10:10 AM · Report this
69
PS - Why am I the only Theo employee willing to be public and open about my identity?

Are current employees afraid of hostile management? Are managers speaking on this blog in the place of ground level workers? Why are people not willing to publicly own up to their view points?

It'd be great if folks sharing testimony could also share their names, just so we can have transparency about where people are coming from and assurance that people are speaking from their own experience, as I am.
Posted by taberrachel@gmail.com on February 20, 2013 at 10:15 AM · Report this
70
They suck
Posted by Mondobondo on February 20, 2013 at 3:50 PM · Report this
71
The horrible treatment of the employees by the owners has been ongoing issue at the company.
Posted by Mondobondo on February 20, 2013 at 3:57 PM · Report this
72
Rachel, you ask why you are the only Theo employee to reveal your identity. Reading the report leads one to believe you are not an employee any longer? In the pursuit of transparency as you suggest, why don't you agree to the release of your employee records for the ILRF and others to review?
Posted by 01010101 on February 20, 2013 at 4:35 PM · Report this
73
@72 - Gee, you sound oddly like Theo management. Listing code in binary rather than a real name? Really? What have you got to hide? Why can't we talk this out in the open, with our real names, with honor?

If management is so eager to reveal employee records, why not go big and also open your own records to the public regarding employee payroll, hiring of David Acosta, the amounts you pay IMO, how they issued you certification despite being fully aware of the union-bust, etc.? Maybe release Mackenzie Jahnke's records, and then try and explain why she was fired 2 days after Green America disqualified Theo from an award for responsible business? Information, such as how much you paid David Acosta per hour, is on Washington State Department of Labor websites anyhow - maybe you should just own up to this. I applaud the transparency Theo is undertaking in your cocoa trading - it's actually a great step - but it seems a little half-assed paired with your selective truth-sharing in this scenario in your own backyard.

Glad you read the report in its entirety - did you also read my comments above, which reveal this same information about the time I was employed'? I'm giving full disclosure. Why aren't you?

No one has asked me personally to review my employee records. Whatever their feelings about the report, any of my former co-workers, tour-goers, or customers would attest that I am a hard worker who poured my heart into my job. Many Seattlites to this day come up to me and state how much they enjoyed or learned from my tour. If I had performed my job at Theo unsatisfactorily, Theo surely would have found just cause to fire me during the 3.5 years I worked there leading up to the union drive. But they didn't. In fact, they hired me back after study hiatuses I took during college because I was such a high-performing employee who brought in great sales and was often requested directly by customers. So there's that track record.

Secondly, the report was compiled by a multitude of testimonies. I can't see what my personal employee record has to do, if anything, with the facts disclosed in the report: a majority of workers signed union cards, management hired a union-avoidance consultant, workers were unfairly discouraged from exercising their rights at work. It would certainly be convenient for management to shift the focus away from these facts by scapegoating me and writing this report off as one disgruntled worker. That is simply not the case. It would not have been possible for one worker to gain the backing of parties like the International Labor Rights Forum, Teamsters, University of Washington Law School, Organic Consumers Association, Fair Trade Resource Network, Green America, Fair Trade Seattle, and many others who have been instrumental to the compilation and dissemination of this information. These organizations are credible institutions that do their research. It's much bigger than me, as the comments from former employees above corroborate. How will you suppress these other testimonies? You can use all the scare tactics in your book, but you can't stop the truth from coming to light eventually. It's about time you learned that.

Everyone involved would be much better off if Theo management agreed to the reasonable requests outlined in the report - all you are being asked to do is sit down, talk about what happened, and make good on your mistakes. It's a relatively easy way to balance some of the awful things management did to people. You claim you are already doing much of what the report calls for - I genuinely hope this is true, because all we ever wanted to begin with was a more equitable workplace. If things have improved so much, then bravo! It would be so simple to formalize this by actually meeting with the parties involved to verify this. If you would just take this step, Theo would be made into a hero for the movement - an example of a growing company that genuinely learned from it's mistakes. Why are you so resistant to the easy way out of doing the right thing?
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Posted by taberrachel@gmail.com on February 28, 2013 at 12:18 AM · Report this
74
I was a former Theo employee well before the union dispute and it was very obvious then that the management cared very little for the employees vs. the image of the company. As I had a life threatening medical emergency during the solstice parade while on shift. I returned to the Theo store seeking help as I was experiencing a brain swelling incident and was incoherent/ barely able to speak clearly. When asked what was wrong by a senior marketing executive I tried to explain what was wrong but in my incoherent state all she would understand was that I had taken too much of my medications. Which was not correct, I had actually accidentally taken the wrong medication and was in serious trouble. This female marketing exec decided that it would be better to physically drag me through the solstice parade to the first aid tent which was located BLOCKS away from Theo through a heavy crowd. As opposed to calling an ambulance to the store itself which was outside of the parade and much easier for medical assistance to get to. This Exec later told me that the reasoning for taking me away from the store was that Theo did not need the Press of an employee overdosing at work. Even though my doctor provided documentation as to what caused the Incident, I was asked to take a month of medical leave "to get my head on straight". I am assuming because they did not want me to share my story with the other employees who they told I had a drug overdose, which is categorically untrue. I am very surprised to hear that Mackenzie Jahnke had been fired as she was one of the hardest working people that I had the pleasure of working with. As well as how bad the situation between Theo and Rachel Taber has become, due to the fact that she was their proverbial Golden Child who could do no wrong and whom all the other employees in the retail are were told to emulate. Management over the retail area was often verbally abusive, Yelling and general negativity was the management style that was allowed flourish at Theo. Even the Head Chocolateer jumped ship for a more peaceful job (which explains the decrease in quality of their confections). I was always struck by how much the management wanted us to lie on tours. For the record Theo has a couple of products that are fully organic and free trade the rest are organic or free trade. So should we be terribly surprised when a company that builds its reputation on half truths, then lie's to, intimidates and cheats its employees. Capitalist greed at its best wrapped in a Fair Trade blanket.
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Posted by TonyDi on March 3, 2013 at 8:55 AM · Report this
75
I was a former Theo employee well before the union dispute and it was very obvious then that the management cared very little for the employees vs. the image of the company. As I had a life threatening medical emergency during the solstice parade while on shift. I returned to the Theo store seeking help as I was experiencing a brain swelling incident and was incoherent/ barely able to speak clearly. When asked what was wrong by a senior marketing executive I tried to explain what was wrong but in my incoherent state all she would understand was that I had taken too much of my medications. Which was not correct, I had actually accidentally taken the wrong medication and was in serious trouble. This female marketing exec decided that it would be better to physically drag me through the solstice parade to the first aid tent which was located BLOCKS away from Theo through a heavy crowd. As opposed to calling an ambulance to the store itself which was outside of the parade and much easier for medical assistance to get to. This Exec later told me that the reasoning for taking me away from the store was that Theo did not need the Press of an employee overdosing at work. Even though my doctor provided documentation as to what caused the Incident, I was asked to take a month of medical leave "to get my head on straight". I am assuming because they did not want me to share my story with the other employees who they told I had a drug overdose, which is categorically untrue. I am very surprised to hear that Mackenzie Jahnke had been fired as she was one of the hardest working people that I had the pleasure of knowing at Theo. As well as how bad the situation between Theo and Rachel Taber has become, due to the fact that she was their proverbial Golden Child who could do no wrong and whom all the other employees in the retail area were told to emulate. Management over the retail area was often verbally abusive, Yelling and general negativity was the management style that was allowed flourish at Theo. Even the Head Chocolateer jumped ship for a more peaceful job (which explains the decrease in quality of their confections). I was always struck by how much the management wanted us to lie on tours. For the record Theo has a couple of products that are fully organic and free trade the rest are organic or free trade. So should we be terribly surprised when a company that builds its reputation on half truths, then lie's to, intimidates and cheats its employees. Capitalist greed at its best wrapped in a Fair Trade blanket.
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Posted by TonyDil on March 3, 2013 at 9:00 AM · Report this
76
Correct to comment #73, Posted by taberrachel@gmail.com on February 28, 2013 at 12:18 AM.

Paragraph 5 states: "It would not have been possible for one worker to gain the backing of parties like the International Labor Rights Forum, Teamsters, University of Washington Law School, Organic Consumers Association, Fair Trade Resource Network, Green America, Fair Trade Seattle, and many others who have been instrumental to the compilation and dissemination of this information."

The organization I work for as Executive Director, Fair Trade Resource Network, neither backs nor opposes any parties in this case. We publish news relevant to the Fair Trade movement. We also didn't help compile information for this case. We simply published news and views from ILRF, IMO and Theo Chocolate to educate the public about different perspectives on this public case.

More at www.FTRN.org

Posted by Fair Trade Resource Network on March 5, 2013 at 9:02 AM · Report this
77
Chocolate is disgusting. You people are crazy.
Posted by wallingforder on April 2, 2013 at 4:53 PM · Report this
78
Theo Chocolates and Whole Foods care only about one thing P R O F I T. The have this politically correct facade that is BS. Whole Foods is like Wal Mart exept more expensive. Screw them!
Posted by dbcooper on April 18, 2013 at 12:38 PM · Report this
79
Rachel @51, @52, @53, @64, @68, @69, @73, @76 -- Thank you for the true story and for the reference. I also work for a company that manufactures organic foods sourced overseas, and boasts all sorts of benefits to their farmer suppliers. Not so with the workforce in the US -- they're cheating us and they're cheating the government, as one accountant put it.

About three years ago I contacted the two Fair Trade certifying organizations in the US and asked them, what about Domestic fair trade, and both reps said that they don't care about US workers, only about those overseas. The hypocrisy is overwhelming to me. Their excuse was that in the US we have recourse to other remedies such as unionizing. Here's the proof that there isn't -- a thuggy corporation like Theo proves the point (and I don't believe a word of management's manufactured lies, or the people they sent to post on this thread. Workers Unite!) I won't be posting my name or the company's name because I am pursuing this with legal counsel. Coincidentally (no pun intended), I, too was hoping for dental coverage, and ended up losing a molar because for two years I couldn't afford to see a dentist; because, as someone said above, if we were getting great wages it wouldn't be a problem. But we're not. Having that tooth extracted really pisses me off.
Dr Bronner's, who are a fair employer and that's why they have a practically zero turnover in their workforce, state this, which I believe should apply to non-farmers as well: "The fairDeal program ensures that farmers receive a fair price for their organic crops. Based on Fair Trade regulations, these prices guarantee enough income to cover the costs of production plus labor and profit, allowing funds to be reinvested back into the organic family farm or local community."
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Posted by justeye on July 12, 2013 at 8:51 PM · Report this
80
What all this whining about "union busting" boils down to is the view that a lot of people (naively) hold that the employees should make decisions for the people who own the company. So what if "19 out of 31 Theo workers wanted a union"? What about the other twelve? Just s__t outta luck, I guess, up against the titanic momentum of "Workers' Rights". Should those 12 then quit? Should Theo's management just cede control of the company to the workers and stick to writing them checks whenever they perceive a "need"? Because there seems to be NO room for any other resolution. Here's what I call it: knowing what the f__k your company's financial picture can and cannot stand. Knowing what the best future course for your company is and who SHOULD make the business' long-term decisions. Knowing how much the headache of constantly having a union lawyer up your tailpipe fort every little perceived slight or "exploitation" and how that distraction can destroy your company. Ultimately, the Unions are ALL - every damned one - nothing more than a Big Daddy figure for adults who lack the ability to say the word "No" when they feel they're not being treated equitably. Those without fundamental backbone and personal resolve lean on unions because Mommy and Daddy aren't always available. A small company like Theo can be put out of business by unionizing workers and those workers KNOW IT.
Posted by Steven J on February 8, 2014 at 1:36 PM · Report this

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