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Rabbi takes to blogosphere to endorse Wendy’s boycott, issue moral call to action in Jewish community…

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Tomato Rabbis outside of Wendy's shareholder meeting in 2013

Tomato Rabbis outside of Wendy’s shareholder meeting in 2013

“We may come to understand that a boycott, like the plagues, is an enactment of a truth: dramatic demonstrations of might and power and determination are often required before we can break free…”

Following the example of his fellow faith leaders, Rabbi Jacob Lieberman — another member of the growing legion of tomato rabbis — took up his pen to issue a powerful call to action in the Wendy’s Boycott late last month.  Equal parts theological reflection and inspirational rallying cry, Rabbi Lieberman’s editorial likened the CIW’s struggle for human rights in the fields today to the Jewish people’s “exit from the physical and spiritual oppression of forced labor” in Egypt.  It is a beautiful, straightforward, and moving piece of writing, and it stands in stark moral contrast to Wendy’s empty public relations responses to the growing boycott.  

Here below is Rabbi Lieberman’s letter in full.  It is well worth the read, from start to finish — and worth sharing far and wide, too!

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Florida tomato on the seder plate?

When I was a child, my maternal grandparents (Marien and Ray, may their memories be a blessing) now and again would take me out to Wendy’s restaurant after a movie or for a treat.

Sometimes I got a Frosty, a delicious chocolate-flavored frozen dessert, or I got a kid’s meal and delighted in salty French fries. Almost always, my grandparents would get a salad, and as they got older they ate half and took the other half home. Sometimes, when they wanted to host but didn’t have the stamina to cook, they would buy salads at Wendy’s and we would all eat around the white oval table in their kitchen.

Since they died, when I want to remember my grandparents, I go to Wendy’s. I buy some food that I hope meets my own kashrut standards (Frosty or fries), and I reminisce. I remember the Batman movie they took me to when I was in elementary school, and the trip to Wendy’s when I went back for a visit from college. I remember them and the good times we shared. Needless to say, for this reason, Wendy’s holds a soft spot in my heart.

But it’s been harder than usual these last three years to love the fast food giant that reminds me so much of family and home.

Of America’s top five fast food chains, Wendy’s is the only one that has not signed on to the Fair Food Program, a groundbreaking human rights initiative led by farmworkers with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which has been addressing human rights abuses successfully in the Florida tomato industry. Fast food giants McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King, and Yum! Brands (Taco Bell), all have joined the Fair Food Program, raising the wages of tomato pickers by one penny per pound of tomatoes picked and helping to ensure fair, regulated working conditions in the fields.

Food service companies and grocery stores such as Walmart, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s also have joined the FFP, committing themselves to source only from growers who have instituted a legally binding code of conduct in the fields. Today, thanks to implementation of the FFP in over 90 percent of Florida’s tomato fields, the Florida tomato industry is known as one of the best workplaces in modern agriculture. The industry has made profound progress to end the widespread labor trafficking, slavery, and unsafe working conditions that once dominated there, so badly that it was considered ground zero for human trafficking in the United States. The FFP has been recognized with the 2015 presidential medal for its “extraordinary efforts combating modern-day slavery,” as well as with the 2014 Clinton Global Citizen Award and the 2013 Franklin D. Roosevelt Freedom from Want Medal, among other acknowledgements and awards.

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Despite the program’s proven successes, Wendy’s has resisted joining FFP, and instead has issued its own code of conduct. It also recently chose to source its tomatoes from Mexico, instead of buying FFP tomatoes from Florida. The Wendy’s code of conduct calls on its suppliers to follow local, state, and federal laws as well as industry standards. However, at least one supplier it chose is known to have a history of serious human rights violations.

In a March 16, 2016 blog post for Harper’s Magazine, author Andrew Cockburn confirmed that the Kaliroy Corporation is providing Wendy’s with tomatoes. Kaliroy is the U.S. distribution arm of Bioparques de Occidente, a major Mexican tomato grower that produces about 6 million boxes of tomatoes for the U.S. market. Cockburn found an investigative article from December, 2014, in which Los Angeles Times reporter Richard Marosi interviewed workers for Bioparques de Occidente. The workers “described subhuman conditions, with workers forced to work without pay, trapped for months at a time in scorpion-infested camps, often without beds, fed on scraps, and beaten when they tried to quit.” Bioparques workers have no Fair Food Program, and if these are the “industry standards” that Wendy’s accepts in its supply chain, then, sadly, I think we can do better.

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On March 3, following Wendy’s move to source tomatoes from Mexico, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers issued a call for a national boycott of Wendy’s, and on April 13 I received an email from T’ruah, a Jewish nonprofit organization that mobilizes rabbis and their communities to protect human rights in the United States, Canada, Israel, and the Occupied Territories. The email endorsed the CIW boycott. I joined with more than 150 rabbis and cantors in answering that call.

This weekend, when many Jews in our area and around the world celebrate Passover, the Jewish holiday of freedom, we will tell the story of yetziat Mitzrayim, our people’s miraculous exit from the physical and spiritual oppression of forced labor. If we are unaccustomed to or disquieted by miracles like the 10 plagues and the parting of the sea, we still may understand the subtle miracle of simply being free, able to move at will, to be compensated justly for our labors, to live a life free of physical and sexual violence. We may come to understand that a boycott, like the plagues, is an enactment of a truth: dramatic demonstrations of might and power and determination are often required before we can break free.

This year, I’ll struggle to understand why Wendy’s heart is hardened to the rights and dignity of the workers who grow its tomatoes, just as every year I struggle to understand why Pharaoh’s heart was hardened in his day. Maybe I’ll add a Florida tomato to my seder plate, or pass one out to each of my guests, and tell the story of how Taco Bell joined the Fair Food Program after a CIW boycott some years ago. After all, I may not understand how hearts become hardened, but I do know how to soften them.

Huffington Post: “Farm Workers Are Taking On Poor Pay And Conditions — And Winning”

In-depth article lifts up unprecedented success of Fair Food Program, Worker-driven Social Responsibility as the “model that’s going forward…”Last week, amidst all the April buzz around the Wendy’s boycott, the Fair Food Program and the Worker-driven Social Responsibility model that underlies its success were the subject of the newest chapter in the Huffington Post’s Farming in America series. Hailing the FFP as the long-awaited solution to the grinding poverty and powerlessness that farmworkers have faced for decades, the article draws on industry experts as well as workers at the ground level to discuss the unparalleled impact of the Program in Florida […]

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National boycott of Wendy’s spreads westward during Month of Outrage…

“We will not hold back, and we will continue raising our voices until we are heard and the rights of workers are respected…”From Day One of the Month of Outrage, Wendy’s has been inundated with a flood of actions, articles and op/eds from the Fair Food Nation, every protest and every story laying the foundation for the growing national boycott of the fast food chain.  Today, we bring you three more highlights of this exciting first month of the boycott, this time from the states of Texas, California and Michigan.First up: the Midwest.  Students at the University of Michigan — a key […]

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Back to the future: Wendy’s shows 20th century disdain for consumers’ intelligence with 21st century marketing push…

Wendy’s new ‘buy American’ campaign flies in the face of the company’s shift of tomato purchases away from Florida and the Fair Food Program to Mexico and the human rights crisis in the fields there…Wendy’s has launched a flashy new marketing campaign, and the astounding contradiction at the heart of its pitch suggests a deeply cynical misreading of consumers’ capacity — of your capacity — for critical, independent thinking.  But before we continue, here below is a television ad, aired earlier this month, promoting the new campaign:  The ideals behind the campaign — supporting American industry, buying fresh, local ingredients — are indeed noble.  The American beef industry should […]

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Ahead of Passover, Jewish community turns spotlight on Wendy’s for turning its back on human rights!

“We must not ignore workers’ quest for dignity, rights and freedom…”Today, across the country and around the world, Jewish communities begin the celebration of Passover, an important moment each year to reflect on the passage from slavery to freedom, both millennia ago and today.  In the Fair Food Nation, the traditional items of the Seder that ground these reflections — among others, bitter herbs (symbolizing the bitterness of slavery) and salt water (tears shed during enslavement) — have in recent years been joined by a tomato, symbolizing farmworkers’ path to freedom in the fields today through the Fair Food Program.This year, Passover falls within […]

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“Enough with Wendy’s excuses…!”

Support for national boycott of Wendy’s building as Month of Outrage protests take place in Florida and beyond…Since the launch of the Wendy’s Boycott Month of Outrage earlier in April, the Fair Food Nation has stepped up and turned up the heat on the hamburger giant.  Today, we have a photo report from the past week’s wave of actions in Denver, Washington DC, and right here in Florida!First up, in Fort Myers this past Sunday, longtime Fair Food allies joined over 40 farmworkers and their families for this month’s second Southwest Florida mobilization. Proudly representing the faith community were members of […]

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Sarasota Herald Tribune: “Farmworkers’ coalition has transformed Florida fields…”

Florida release of Fair Food Program annual report highlights key mechanisms for enforcement, impact of FFP…The Fair Food Program Annual Report — which has been making the rounds among worker organizations, academics, and the media ever since its official New York release back in February — was the centerpiece of a lively community and media event in Sarasota, Florida, late last week.  Why Sarasota?  The fine city by the sea on Florida’s gulf coast happens to be home to the Fair Food Program’s dedicated monitoring organization, the Fair Food Standards Council (FFSC).  And amidst the hustle and bustle of the final farm audits and worker-to-worker education sessions […]

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Students turn to college newspapers to turn up the heat on Wendy’s during Month of Outrage…

“I will not be spending any money or allowing friends or colleagues to spend money on a company that is benefiting from the exploitation of farmworkers…”After Florida farmworkers and their Southwest Florida allies took to the streets of Naples last week with a lively protest to kick off the Wendy’s Month of Outrage, students across the country have been taking to the pages of their school papers to send a powerful message of their own to Wendy’s this month.  In addition to the excellent op/ed we already shared from a Kenyon College student, two more student-authored articles came out just last week, giving voice to young people’s growing […]

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Freedom Network, national leader in fight against modern-day slavery, makes its voice heard in Wendy’s Month of Outrage!

Nearly 50 Freedom Network members march on Wendy’s in Chicago…The Freedom Network USA to Empower Trafficked and Enslaved Persons is the oldest national network/alliance of organizations dedicated to fighting and eliminating human trafficking and modern-day slavery.  The CIW was a founding member of the network, which formed in 2001 and today counts 39 organizations in dozens of states, from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York City, to the Southern Poverty Immigrant Justice Project in Atlanta and the Coalition Against Slavery and Trafficking in Los Angeles.  The past three recipients of the Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts […]

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April declared “Month of Outrage” in national Wendy’s Boycott!

Outrage over explosive Harper’s article connecting Wendy’s to infamous Mexican tomato supplier prompts farmworkers, consumers to call for month of action to kick off national boycott…Just a few short weeks ago, over 100 farmworkers from Immokalee — joined by 400+ consumers from across the state of Florida — wrapped up the Workers’ Voice Tour in Palm Beach, Florida, with an unforgettable march through the heart of the exclusive island community.  With one voice they declared to all that would hear: Boycott Wendy’s!The workers and their consumer allies declared the national boycott for three principal reasons:1) Wendy’s is profiting from farmworker […]

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Strawberries! Get your Fair Food Program strawberries here!…

Fair Food Program strawberries set to hit select Whole Foods stores this week, carry FFP label on the clamshell…Whole Foods: “The Fair Food Program is the leading worker welfare success story in the U.S.”The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Whole Foods Market, and Sunripe Certified Brands announced a groundbreaking initiative today, expanding the Fair Food Program into the strawberry industry and debuting the beautiful new Fair Food Program label in Whole Foods produce aisles as early as this week.  And for those readers who might not recognize the name Sunripe Certified Brands, you probably recognize them as Pacific Tomato Growers — that’s […]

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Now we know: Explosive new article in Harper’s Magazine reveals Wendy’s tomato supplier in Mexico…

… And the supplier’s history is not pretty: Bioparques was the subject of a massive slavery prosecution in 2013.Harper’s Magazine released an explosive new article this week in its online pages that did some digging into Wendy’s tomato supply chain in Mexico, and what Andrew Cockburn, Harper’s Washington Editor, found out was in fact quite disturbing.  [Unless you haven’t visited this site in a while, you’ll recall that Wendy’s stopped buying tomatoes from Florida altogether following the implementation of the Fair Food Program here and shifted its purchases to Mexico.  Wendy’s decision to abandon its Florida suppliers was one of the principal reasons for […]

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“If you’re going to make an impression, come to the place where the chairman is on holiday”…

Ethel Kennedy joins workers from Immokalee, consumers from across Florida, as Workers’ Voice Tour rolls through Palm Beach calling on Wendy’s board chair and part-time resident Nelson Peltz to support farmworkers’ fundamental human rights!Marking the end of an historic ten-day tour — a tour that started with the declaration of a national Wendy’s Boycott in New York City and continued with a massive march through Wendy’s hometown of Columbus, Ohio — farmworkers and their consumer allies saved the best for last on Saturday with a 2.7-mile march on the exclusive island community of Palm Beach, filling the streets with over 500 exuberant marchers calling on Wendy’s to join […]

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The Wendy’s Boycott begins: Video, photo report from Day One of the Workers’ Voice Tour!

Epic rally, street theater, march through Midtown Manhattan launch second boycott in 15-year history of Campaign for Fair Food!The Campaign for Fair Food has known many an historic moment in its 15-year history — the launch of the seminal Taco Bell Boycott, the victory in that campaign four years later that established the Fair Food principles, the raucous celebration of the second Fair Food agreement with McDonald’s at Chicago’s House of Blues, the first-ever agreement with a Florida tomato grower in 2010 that led to the agreement with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange one month later and the launch of […]

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Wendy’s vs. Wendy’s…

… Or how Wendy’s own code of conduct demonstrates that the hamburger giant really doesn’t care about human rights in its supply chain.Last week, in a post entitled “A Battle for the Soul of Social Responsibility,” we took a long look at Wendy’s new supplier code of conduct and its provisions on labor rights, and we reached this conclusion: “When it comes to human rights, it seems that voluntary compliance is just fine with Wendy’s.”  When you compare Wendy’s vague “expectations” for ethical behavior from its suppliers and equivocal approach to consequences for suppliers who fail to meet those expectations, Wendy’s new […]

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Must-listen radio: New story on Fair Food Program’s entry into strawberry industry takes you into the fields as history is made…

The Fair Food Program breaks new ground in Florida’s troubled strawberry industry and the Center for Investigative Reporting is there to cover the exciting new story!…  The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) has a mission: to “engage and empower the public through investigative journalism and groundbreaking storytelling in order to spark action, improve lives and protect our democracy.”  Toward that end, CIR produces an award-winning radio show and podcast by the name of “Reveal,” that is distributed nationally and that does the kind of long-form radio reporting that takes the listener deep into an issue in a way only radio can.Fortunately for […]

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