BOYCOTT!… Farmworkers, consumers declare national boycott of fast-food giant Wendy’s!

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500 _______ march past Radio City on their way to the offices of Wendy's Board Chairman Nelson Peltz

Farmworkers and consumers nearly 500 strong march past Radio City Music Hall on their way to the Park Avenue offices of Wendy’s Board Chairman Nelson Peltz.

CIW to Wendy’s: “We are here to remind Nelson Peltz that there is something more important than money:  Dignity!” 

As the sun began to dip behind New York’s skyscrapers yesterday afternoon, hundreds upon hundreds of consumers crowded in around an impromptu stage constructed just off Columbus Circle.  The Fair Food Nation had been abuzz for hours with news of a big announcement in the CIW’s three-year campaign against Wendy’s and, following the debut of a powerful new popular theater piece, farmworkers from Immokalee took to the stage with a rousing call that echoed loud and clear over the din and hustle of downtown Manhattan:  Boycott Wendy’s!

By any measure, it was an historic day in the Campaign for Fair Food, a campaign that has known many memorable moments.  Later today we’ll be providing more in-depth reporting — including an extensive photo report and video coverage — from the day’s events.  In the the meantime, however, we wanted to touch on several of the highlights from yesterday’s major announcement!

First up, an excerpt from the official CIW press release:

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The CIW is calling for consumers to boycott Wendy’s because:

  1. Wendy’s has shifted its purchases from Florida to Mexico: Wendy’s has not only refused to join the FFP, but has stopped buying tomatoes from Florida altogether following the implementation of the Fair Food Program there. Rather than support US growers setting new standards for human rights in the agricultural industry, Wendy’s took its tomato purchases to Mexico, where the widespread denial of human rights in the produce industry was the subject of an in-depth expose by the Los Angeles Times just one year ago.
  2. Wendy’s has chosen public relations over human rights protections: Instead of joining the Fair Food Program and its widely-acclaimed, uniquely successful worker-driven model of social responsibility, Wendy’s released a new supplier code of conduct this past January that contains no effective mechanisms for worker participation or enforcement. Wendy’s new code represents the very worst of the traditional corporate approach to social responsibility driven by public relations concerns rather than the verifiable protection of human rights.
  3. Wendy’s is profiting from farmworker poverty: Wendy’s stands alone as the last of the five major US fast food corporations to refuse to join the FFP: McDonald’s, Yum! Brands, Subway, and Burger King are all part of the Program. By refusing to participate, Wendy’s is deriving a very real cost advantage over its competitors, while continuing to provide a market for less reputable growers… read more

The announcement spread rapidly in the national media, including the online social action hub, Take Part, in an article titled “Tomato Fight: Farmworkers Launch National Boycott Against Wendy’s“:

Young supporters watch  on from within the crowd of nearly 500 consumers at yesterday's opening rally.

Young supporters watch the theater depicting Wendy’s efforts to evade social responsibility and the response from the growing partnership for farm labor justice among farmworkers, growers, and consumers.

If you enjoy the occasional nostalgic turn into the Wendy’s drive-through, that bright hint of red tomato on your burger may not be so innocent. There’s a long-documented history of human trafficking, wage theft, and other abuses in the U.S. tomato industry, which the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been fighting to change since 1993. It’s a fight the group, organized and run by farmworkers, has been winning: Nearly every major fast-food company has signed on to the CIW’s Fair Food Program, which increases the price of tomatoes by a penny per pound to increase pay, improve working conditions, and extend new rights to workers. Wendy’s remains the lone holdout.

On Thursday, protesters will march in New York City to launch a national boycott of the chain. The tactic has worked in the past for CIW, but considering the widespread support the farmworker group now has, it’s one it thought it had moved past.

“In light of the Fair Food Program’s unparalleled success in eliminating longstanding human rights violations in the fields, it is preferable at this point for companies looking for solutions to abuses in their supply chains to come to the program of their own volition,” the CIW’s Lupe Gonzalo said in a statement. “By now, protests and boycotts should be no longer necessary.”

But according to the CIW, Wendy’s has not only refused to help farmworkers, but it made changes for the worse. As the Fair Food Program became widespread in Florida—the leading domestic supplier of fresh tomatoes—Wendy’s began buying tomatoes in Mexico. Major corporations purchasing produce from the country say their suppliers are “committed to decent treatment and living conditions for workers,” according to the Los Angeles Times—which reported in a 2014 exposé that it found Mexican farmworkers working without pay, without the ability to leave company-owned camps, and without access to basic amenities such as fresh running water and bathrooms.

“They were profiting from the suffering of our community, and now they go to profit off of other communities that are in even worse circumstances,” the CIW’s Gerardo Reyes Chavez said in an interview. “That is just despicable.”  read more

Meanwhile, the industry journal National Restaurant News also picked up on the breaking boycott of the hamburger giant.  The article included a response from Wendy’s spokesman Bob Bertini, who, while tasked with the thankless job of of having to explain the inexplicable, confirmed that Wendy’s was no longer purchasing in Florida:

Marchers pass Rockefeller Center along 5th Avenue on their way to the offices of Wendy's Board Chairman Nelson Peltz.

Marchers pass Rockefeller Center along 5th Avenue on their way to the offices of Wendy’s Board Chairman Nelson Peltz.

But Bob Bertini, a Wendy’s spokesman, said that the company currently isn’t buying tomatoes from Florida for various reasons, including seasonality. When it did buy tomatoes from Florida, the company only worked with suppliers that were participants in the Fair Food Program.

He said that the chain only works with suppliers that sign the company’s code of conduct — which requires that suppliers comply with local, state and federal laws and follow required industry standards.

Bertini also said the penny surcharge was inappropriate. “CIW has demanded that we pay an additional fee directly to the tomato harvesters that work for the suppliers with whom we contract,” he said. “These individuals are not Wendy’s employees, we have not thought it appropriate to pay another company’s workers — just as we do not pay factory workers, truck drivers or maintenance personnel that work for our other suppliers.”

The coalition says that, by not joining the program, “Wendy’s is deriving a very real cost advantage over its competitors, while continuing to provide a market for less reputable growers.”

The group also blasted the code of conduct as “the very worst of the traditional corporate approach to social responsibility driven by public relations concerns rather than the verifiable protection of human rights.”  read more

News of the Wendy’s boycott made international waves, as well, landing in Mexico’s news leader La Jornada with an article titled “Trabajadores de Immokalee inician boicot mundial contra Wendy’s” [Immokalee workers launch a global boycott against Wendy’s]:

CIW's theater piece, complete with 9-ft puppets, concluded with a call to boycott the world's third largest hamburger chain.

CIW’s theater piece, complete with 9-ft puppets, concluded with a call to boycott the world’s third largest hamburger chain.

Wendy’s – la tercera cadena de hamburguesas más grande del mundo – es la única de las principales cinco cadenas de comida rápida que rehusan sumarse al Programa de Alimento Justo.

Más aún, la CIW señaló este jueves que Wendy’s, para evitar sumarse al Programa de Comida Justa ha dejado de comprar jitomate en Florida donde ya prevalece ese programa, para comprar ahora el producto de México donde las condiciones para los jornaleros han sido denunciadas internacionalmente.

La CIW acusa que Wendy’s, al rehusar, solo busca beneficiarse de la explotación de jornaleros tanto en Estados Unidos como México.

“Cuando empresas como Wendy’s permanecen tan tercamente atrapadas en el pasado, comprometida en un camino de promesas huecas de relaciones publicas en lugar de protecciones reales de derechos humanos, no nos queda otra opción”, más que el boicot, comentó Lupe Gonzalo del CIW, quien resaltó: “somos seres humanos y merecemos ser tratados con dignidad”.  read more

Of course, news of the boycott hit social media as well!  Here are just three highlights from the Twittersphere:

That’s it for now.  Be sure to check back this afternoon for a full report from yesterday’s launch of the national Wendy’s boycott!

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