Human rights and worker’s rights are two things we should all be passionate about protecting, not sacrificing or selling. We certainly know that we can rely on conservative governments to do either, so we have to be self-reliant and let our money do the talking.

We have to ensure the trampling of people’s rights is not a profitable business model.

This month I find myself completely unsurprised to find that a multinational company with no care for human rights also has little or no regard for worker’s rights, pay, or their conditions.

Last week workers at General Mills in Sydney commenced striking after negotiations between the company and the United Workers Union collapsed.

We have all learned things during the covid crisis, one of the things most have learned, some the hard way, is the importance of secure work. Unfortunately, others have learned how to increase profits from the fears, uncertainty and as I’ll explain later the ethnic cleansing and international crimes of a rogue state.

This brings us to General Mills.

General Mills is a company name that may not sound familiar to most, however, you will no doubt recognise some of their brand names, such as Old El Paso, Latina fresh, Häagen Dazs, and Betty Crocker.

Workers at General Mill’s Rooty Hill factory in Sydney have been busting their guts for the company as essential workers in the food supply chain.

We have all witnessed the extra demand on supermarkets during covid as a result of both panic buying and more meals being prepared and eaten at home. For General Mills it has been boom time, extra sales, extra profit, and even a couple of new product launches. They have found themselves in the fortunate position of having staff willing to go the extra mile for the company so that supply never waivered and the consumer was always able to chuck something from the General in the shopping trolley.

The workers weren’t seeking medals or a ticker-tape parade, they were just hoping for some appreciation and a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s bloody work. Instead, they were offered the crumbs while management feasted on the cake.

Despite the efforts of workers, their reward has been to watch General Mills roll out a plan that vastly reduces worker’s rights and conditions. Bother workers and the UWU want to see that rollout grind to a halt.

We’re talking about a freeze on new permanent jobs, extra weekend work, and for all the extra turnover and profit wage increases of no more than a paltry 2%, and that’s over three years. With the rising cost of living that’s effectively a pay cut.

As United Worker’s Union’s National Director of Food and Beverage, Susie Allison stated;

“Insecure work hurts workers and families, having a pathway to secure, permanent jobs should be a minimum standard at a large and profitable company like General Mills. The way the company is behaving is an absolute disgrace.”

You can’t blame the workers at General Mills for feeling insecure. Many of them have been employed there for years, but only through casual hire companies. During their time there they’ve found themselves changing hire firms like middle management change their ties, however, unlike management the workers don’t have a choice and their jobs are far less secure than the ties around the necks of management.

So what can we do?

Workers at General Mills would like us to sign this petition to show management that the public expects better.

However, it’s not just their workers in Sydney with issues with General Mills, with many calling for a boycott of their products based on human rights concerns. One of those is the BDS Movement.

Human Rights protesters outside General Mills head office
Image: Emma Leigh Sron / AFSC

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law. Anyone who has a TV set and hasn’t been living in a cave has seen recently how having Israeli occupiers is working out for Palestinian families.

General Mills has profited directly from the plight of Palestinians by manufacturing products on stolen Palestinian land. When Israeli occupiers with the support of their government create settlements by expelling Palestinian families from their homes, farms, and livelihoods they breach not only most people’s standards of morality but also breach human rights and international law. While much of the world doesn’t hear the cries of Palestinian families, General Mills has, however, the only translation they hear is ‘ker-ching’ and the only thing they smell in the smoldering remnants of Palestinian homes is opportunity.

The ethnic cleansing of a population should not be seen as something to take advantage of, and the theft of land should not be seen as a way to secure cheap property and increase profits.

General Mills have seen their profits rise by almost 40% over the last five years.

Something to consider whenever you’re at the supermarket.

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