If you shop at Publix, Kroger, or Wendy’s, you might relate …

I live walking distance from a newly remodeled Publix grocery store, and it’s a great store. Their motto, “Where shopping is a pleasure,” fits my experience to a T … except in one important area.

According to their Corporate Sustainability Statement, Publix is committed to enhancing corporate ties to the communities they serve, and Publix guarantees that they“will never knowingly disappoint” customers like me, and that if my purchase does not give me “complete satisfaction,” they will cheerfully refund the full purchase price.

I was a pastor for twenty-four years and since then, I have worked to serve communities of faith by encouraging and supporting their leaders. Over my years in Christian ministry, I have come back again and again to the basics, like loving my neighbor as myself and doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. Growth in my faith has led me to take seriously all the details of my life … a harsh word spoken here, an expression of impatience or unkindness there, a purchase that unintentionally caused needless harm either to the environment or other people.

That last one is where my complete satisfaction and shopping pleasure at Publix are tarnished. I wish Publix would help customers like me be more responsible shoppers by using their powerful economic footprint to seek justice and show kindness to our neighbors who work in the hot sun to grow and harvest our food, day after day, year after year.

We Floridians have been shocked over recent years by repeated reports of human trafficking among local farm workers. We know these workers contribute directly to Publix profits and to our own dinner tables. We wish Publix would use their clout to make a difference, especially because doing so would reflect their corporate values … and the Christian values of the founder’s family.

Take the case of Bladimir Moreno. He was recently prosecuted, along with three of his colleagues, in a severe case of abuse of farmworkers.

Back in 2016, two workers escaped from a forced labor operation in Pahokee. Moreno and his crew kept these workers against their will behind barbed wire and under constant surveillance, working for extremely low pay. They only escaped by hiding in the trunk of a car.

This one case in Pahokee would be serious enough, but the six year investigation that ensued revealed that Moreno had similar operations in Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Indiana. A report from Attorney General Kristen Clarke of Florida’s Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, concluded that Moreno and his associates “exploited their victims’ vulnerabilities and immigration status, promising them access to the American dream but then turning around and confiscating their passports and threatening arrest and deportation if they did not endlessly toil away for their profit.”

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has been a champion of farm worker rights, safety, and protection for decades, and Moreno’s case was not the first they have had to address, but the thirteenth. Here’s what I appreciate most about the CIW: they don’t just point out problems. They create workable and highly celebrated solutions like the Fair Food Program that protect workers through the supply chain so that shoppers at participating companies can have a clean conscience about what they buy.

That’s where Publix could take a very small step that would be a giant leap forward for justice and kindness in Florida and beyond. They could join the CIW’s Fair Food Program. Many other companies, from Walmart to McDonald’s to Taco Bell, have joined. That means that their customers don’t have to feel a pang of conscience every time they buy a tomato or watermelon from their stories. Publix, along with Kroger and Wendy’s, have been holdouts from joining the program, and that just doesn’t make sense to people like me.

In the end, Moreno and his associates pled guilty to the charges that were brought against them. But we all know there will be another Bladimir Moreno next month or next year, exploiting more vulnerable farm workers. Publix, Wendy’s, and Kroger could take a simple step to make things better … for farm workers and for us shoppers.

I hope they will soon.