Why Whole Foods Is Scoring Big Points in Detroit
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LC: We know this falls short of a negotiated community benefits agreement (CBA). That wasn’t possible by the time we engaged. But it is another strategy for engaging.
GR: We engaged the corporation. In my experience, in Detroit, I've never seen this done.
MLM: I definitely plan to use the model proactively.
GR: We had a vision of justice, and that is what kept opening doors, visions, challenging us. We were very faithful to the vision. That taught us a lot, but it was enjoyable. It was challenging, but not adversarial. The relationship—there were moments that were hard, but it was not a fight, not a war. You don't compromise your principles, but you keep at it, keep engaging around the principles.
AMB: Would you say that in some ways that this is an emergent strategy, iterative, adaptive, and focused on relationships?
LC: We were very intentional about trying to create opportunities for Whole Foods to shift their practice. We came into the process very late—they had already been meeting and talking with folks for two years. Who knows what it would have looked like if we had been there from the beginning. When we arrived it was clear there wouldn't be a CBA, but we could have impact.
GR: Also, no one person could take credit for it; it was truly a coalition effort.
LC: And it should be noted this work is not funded.
GR: I would call it gift economy—our effort, our time, the reputation of our organizations, gifting Detroiters.
LC: Also the majority of the people around the table, we live in the city, we are constituents. Part of the requirement to be at the table is that you have to be part of a community, a group, and that you are taking this back to the community. We came to the table as stakeholders because we are Detroiters, part of the community.
AMB: That’s beautiful, and powerful. And what is the focus of Equitable Detroit now?
LC: Our next work is collecting data and looking at the impact over time on nearby merchants, small local growers, and who is accessing the store.