When Jay-Z’s Rocawear brand yanked its “Occupy Wall Street” shirts over criticism about profiting off a social movement (with no plans to donate anything back to Occupy Wall Street), the lesson was clear: Those capitalizing on OWS must tread lightly or risk major PR blowback.
With this in mind, the future of one trademark application (filed Nov. 19th) is very intriguing. The mark, “Wine for the 99%,” was requested by massive wine conglomerate The Wine Group LLC.[more]
Founded in 1981, The Wine Group is best known as the producer of Franzia wine-in-a-box. The company also makes Mogen David, Corbett Canyon, Glen Ellen and Fisheye, among many others. Today, by volume, The Wine Group is the second largest wine producer in California and the third largest in the world.
The “99%”, of course, is the name given to group that has “occupied” Wall Street (and other cities) in protest of what they see as increasingly unfair wealth distribution. From a site featuring 99%ers: “We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we’re working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.”
Given The Wine Group’s other products, it’s not a stretch that the company believes “wine for the 99%” would be a good tagline or brand name for a line of cheap wine capitalizing on the current craze. (Requests for comment from The Wine Group were not returned.)
The problem is that the wine industry—especially the low-end segment—is a huge beneficiary of undocumented immigrant labor. In fact, the California Association of Winegrowers president once estimated that up to 70 percent of those employed in California’s wine industry may be undocumented. The 2010 comments by the CEO of Wine Group competitor Bronco, were sobering. A May 2011 New York Times investigation begins “Nearly every drop of Napa County’s world-class wine is produced by migrant labor.” While new federal regulations are in place to increase fines for such hiring practices, a lawsuit suspending implication of the law for the time being.
The Occupy movement and its “We are the 99%” base of supporters are sensitive to such details. When Fire Dog Lake raised $50,000 for its #OccupySupply initiative to provide winter gear for those camped out, it made a point to assure all items would be “American made.” And while Californian wine is certainly American made, the undocumented labor used to product it might not sit well with the many unemployed who consider themselves the 99%.
Then again, maybe their own wine is exactly what the 99% needs to guzzle down to forget their sorrows. Another California spirit is coming to Occupy Wall Street tomorrow, by the way — Jackson Browne, whose hit song Running on Empty takes on extra poignancy this election cycle.