A grocery store is facing criticism after featuring an Ontario farm family accused of mistreating its migrant workers, in its weekly flyer.
Last week’s Foodland flyer includes a small write up on the Kai Wiens Family Farm, which is located on Niagara-on-the-Lake. Earlier this month, some Jamaican migrant workers on that farm wrote an open letter to Jamaica's minister of labour and social security, who visited the operations on August 15.
The letter details the alleged conditions they live in, including cramped housing that are monitored by cameras, as well as lack of facilities like a drying machine, which forces them to wear wet clothing to work. It also details alleged verbally abusive bosses who “physically intimidate us, destroy our personal property, and threaten to send us home.”
The fruit pickers describe their treatment on the farms as “systemic slavery”.
Despite this, the Foodland flyer features a photo of the Wiens family along with their product.
“Johannes Wiens began peach farming on Niagara-on-the-Lake in 1967,” the copy reads. “Today with his son Kal and grandson Dylan, they work together on 180 acres to bring you fresh, sweet and juicy hand-harvested and sorted Ontario-grown peaches.”
The flyer makes no mention of the migrant workers who work and live on the farm.
Syed Hussan, Executive Director of the Migrant Workers Alliance, says the timing of the flyer is “egregious”.
It’s not that (the Wiens) are being celebrated, it’s as if the food is being grown by the owners instead of the farm workers who do the work. They’re being invisibilized…it really highlights the incredibly racist and exploitative underpinning of our entire food system.Syed Hussan, Executive Director of the Migrant Workers Alliance
UNACCEPTABLE: The same week that Jamaican farmworkers spoke up about systematic slavery, @sobeys owned Foodland stores are featuring their abusive boss in flyers across the country!
Don't celebrate bad bosses! pic.twitter.com/leEsgt9CcD
— Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (@MWACCanada) August 24, 2022
Sobey’s, the parent company for Foodland, and Kai Wiens Family Farm has yet to respond to Yahoo News Canada after a request for comment.
Each year about 70,000 to 80,000 people come to Canada to work in “agri-food” jobs, which includes positions like farm workers, fisheries workers, mushroom pickers and chicken catchers.
They come on either a seasonal permit, which lasts for a maximum of eight months, or on one or two-year permits.
All these workers are tied to their employers, which means they’re prohibited from working for anyone else.
Employers also have the ability to send workers back to their home country or blacklist them, making them ineligible to work in Canada in the future.
Hussan says the bottom line doesn’t come down to one employer but the entire immigration system.
“It’s the immigration rules that are fundamentally being questioned,” he says.