Activists out Burger King dirty tricks operation

Activists have outed a corporate dirty tricks operation tied to Burger King aimed at discrediting efforts to improve the often horrific conditions of migrant workers in Florida's tomato fields.

It emerged yesterday that a top Burger King official is being investigated for using his young daughter's online alias to make derogatory comments about the farm worker group, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which is asking the fast food chain to raise tomato pickers' pay by a cent for every pound picked.

Burger King's vice president Steven Grover was fingered as the source of venomous online attacks on student activists. "Senior management of the company had no knowledge of Grover's postings," Burger King spokeswoman Denise Wilson said. "We are conducting an internal investigation, and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken."

The farm workers coalition discovered that abusive emails and comments under the names "activist2008" actually originated at the Miami headquarters of Burger King. The e-mail Internet protocol addresses are the same as Burger King's.

Emails claiming that activists were trying to get money for themselves were separately linked to a private email being used by Stephen Grover, Burger King’s vice president. Some of those posts were traced to the online name used by Mr Grover’s daughter, who is still in school. She confirmed that her father had used her online name "surfxaholic36" to attack the activists who are trying to raise the pay of tomato pickers.

"That was my Dad. That was him," she said, when asked if she had written anything about the tomato workers online.

Mr Grover has not commented on the episode, but Burger King said "comments attributed to Steve Grover do not reflect Burger King’s desire to find a way to assure decent wages and modern working conditions for the tomato harvesters."

Separately a security firm offering "covert surveillance" and "undercover operations" has been discovered trying to infiltrate a student organisation which is agitating on campuses for better conditions for the migrant workers.

The attempted infiltration of the activists by paid corporate spies was noticed when Cara Shaffer, who described herself as a college student said she wanted to start an activist group at a Virginia university. The activists quickly discovered that she actually heads a company named Diplomatic Tactical Services. She now refuses to discuss her attempted involvement with the farmworker group. A Burger King spokesperson said he "knows nothing about any Burger King effort to spy" on the student group.

Asked whether Burger King hired Diplomatic Tactical Services, she said: "We have no further comment."

The developments come in the wake of US Senate held hearings into what some describe as modern-day slavery conditions of tomato pickers who work long hours in backbreaking conditions. The rate of pay of many pickers, 45 cents a bucket, has not changed since 1978.

The Senate hearings occurred after international media attention was drawn to a case in which three migrant workers were revealed to have been beaten and chained-up in a van overnight before being taken to the fields.

"Today's form of slavery does not bear the overt nature of pre-Civil War society, but it is none the less heinous and reprehensible," Detective Charlie Frost told the Washington hearing which took place last month.

Lucas Benitez, an activist for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, told the Senate panel that tomato pickers are regularly abused, harassed, intimidated. Many are kept so deeply in debt that it amounts to bondage. Female pickers are also subjected to sexual harassment and abuse, he said.

In the past decade seven cases of modern-day slavery have been uncovered in the tomato fields of Florida. But he described them as being the "tip of the iceberg."

Detective Frost said the conditions of some workers in Florida were equivalent as human trafficking. The large tomato producers shield themselves from prosecution by hiring subcontractors, who are responsible for human trafficking, he testified

The tomato growers reject the allegations of mistreatment and low pay. "Florida's tomato growers abhor and condemn slavery," said Reginald Brown of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange.

"We are paying fair wages and we're paying our workers fairly," he said.

But Senator Dick Durbin said workers would have to pick almost 3,000 tomatoes to earn $14 (£7) and would have to fill and empty their buckets every two minutes.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders