Hot off the press! The full media round-up from the Return to Human Rights Tour is here…

OSU student fasters during the March 26th Parade for Human Rights in Columbus, Ohio

Ohio State student fasters: “With this fast, we wanted to send the signal loud and clear [to Wendy’s] that as consumers, we care about where our food comes from…”

Hitting 14 cities in 14 days, and featuring a week-long fast by 19 courageous students and alumni at Ohio State University, the Return to Human Rights Tour undoubtedly established the high-water mark in the year-old Wendy’s Boycott.  For one frenetic fortnight in March, thousands of consumers in state after state — from student fasters and local labor leaders to determined clergy and consumers of conscience of every stripe — joined forces with the tour crew and amplified the CIW’s message to Wendy’s: The time of poverty wages and unchecked human rights abuses in the fields is past, and we will fight to our last breath to preserve and expand the dignity and freedom we have won in the fields through the Fair Food Program.

That message rippled out, on the airwaves and in newspapers, from each and every tour stop along the 2,000-mile route to reach millions more consumers.  Today, we bring you a mammoth media round-up, with articles, radio stories, and television reports on the tour from Gainesville to Columbus, and back down again to Tampa.

We’ve chosen highlights from three excellent articles that emerged over the course of the tour, and have included a full press list at the bottom of the post.  Please keep the momentum going by sharing news of the Return to Human Rights Tour in your networks!

Media Round-Up…

First up, The Nation came out with an article tracking the progress of the Student/Farmworker Alliance’s Boot the Braids Campaign at the University of Florida, which was the very first stop along the Return to Human Rights Tour:

Students and Farmworkers Are Teaming Up to Boot Wendy’s Off Their Campuses

The effort is part of a national campaign to pressure Wendy’s to improve their labor practices.

By Molly Minta
MARCH 29, 2017

University of Florida students and workers protest against Wendy’s on March 16, 2017. (Molly Minta)

GAINESVILLE, FL — […]  The march in Gainesville was the kickoff for a national CIW protest, the “Return to Human Rights Tour,” which concludes today with a vigil in Tampa. Over the span of two weeks, CIW members and their allies have toured cities across the US to mobilize support for the FFP. The CIW partnered with students at Vanderbilt, UNC Chapel Hill, and Ohio State—whose students completed a week-long fast in solidarity—to demand that their administrators pressure Wendy’s to sign onto the program. The 13-stop tour was the longest protest action of the coalition’s Campaign for Fair Food in the past decade, and included a protest in downtown Columbus, a few miles south of Wendy’s international headquarters, last weekend.

Members of CHISPAS, a UF student organization that focuses on immigrant rights and advocacy, and other UF students have been organizing against Wendy’s since the start of the Boot the Braids campaign. For many of these students, like 20-year-old CHISPAS secretary Lucero Ruballos, the Fair Food Program has directly impacted their lives. […]

[…] Over 90 percent of the Florida’s tomato growers have signed onto the Fair Food Program and farmworkers, including Ruballos’s aunt, have seen their wages and working conditions improve, said Patricia Cipollitti, an organizer with the Alliance for Fair Food.

“This is a program that’s been working,” Cipollitti said. “Farmworkers know their reality the most. They’re the ones who know what changes need to be made. That’s the key piece of this worker-driven model of social responsibility that works, rather than this top-down model of corporate responsibility, where those who design the audits and the systems for monitoring don’t actually have their eyes and ears on the ground or an interest in enforcing these kinds of standards.”

Despite this, Cipollitti said that Wendy’s has only become further entrenched in its opposition to the FFP. As a workaround, Wendy’s no longer purchases from Florida tomato growers and has drafted its own code of conduct, which the Alliance for Fair Food called “completely void of effective enforcement mechanisms to protect farmworker’s human rights.”

In response to Wendy’s entrenchment, the student campaigns have become more complex. This year, Ruballos spearheaded a three-pronged strategy that targeted other organizations on campus for support, reached out to students through marketing and social media, and engaged UF administrators by building up to the march with smaller demonstrations throughout the year. […]

[…]  “It’s not just the march,” said Ruballos. “It’s an ongoing process… We have to show Wendy’s that there are students, there are people and community leaders, that are in full support of the CIW’s Fair Food Program, that are not letting inhumane [practices] get in the way.”  Read more

Second, Bloomberg published an in-depth look at the promising results of using the market to drive social change in low-wage industries, highlighting both the Fair Food Program and the ongoing fight to expand basic worker protections by bringing on new retailers like Wendy’s:

Farm, Construction Worker Groups Create Trump Resistance Blueprint

By Chris Opfer
March 31, 2017

Labor unions and worker advocates have been scrambling since the November elections to come up with a plan for action in the Age of Trump. A pair of local groups advocating for Florida tomato pickers and Texas construction workers may have the blueprint.

The Fair Food Program, a 12-year-old project created by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, partners with farmers and big fast-food companies to increase tomato pickers’ wages and protect them on the job. The Texas Workers Defense Project has similarly had success pushing “better builder” standards to ensure that companies do right by workers who construct their offices, apartment buildings and other projects.

Both programs focus on supply-chain efforts that include workers’ direct employers and the companies that ultimately benefit from their labor. The groups have already landed some big fish: Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Yum! Brands Inc. and McDonald’s USA LLC are among the FFP participants, and Apple Inc. agreed after protracted negotiations to abide by better builder standards when it built a campus in Austin, Texas.

“I’m glad we depend on the market for enforcement, not the government,” Laura Safer Espinoza, a retired judge who works on the FFP’s enforcement board, told Bloomberg BNA March 30. “There is no reason why this model can’t be replicated and adapted in numerous industries, as long as you have a recognizable brand at the top of the supply chain.” […]

[…]  “We had no choice but to persevere until we were able to educate enough consumers to generate enough pressure to overcome the buyers’ innate resistance to a new idea, and the Fair Food Program was still an untested idea at the time that Taco Bell and McDonald’s signed on,” CIW co-founder Greg Asbed told Bloomberg BNA March 30.

The CIW recently wrapped up several days of boycotts, marches and protests aimed at Wendy’s and staged in the company’s home state of Ohio. The group says the fast-food chain has shifted its tomato buying to operations in Mexico instead of signing on to the Fair Food Program. […] 

[…]  CIW’s Asbed said, lately it’s often employers that come to the organization seeking to join the Fair Food Program.

“Our latest agreements—Wal-Mart, Fresh Market, Ahold—have come without campaigns at all, or with relatively little public pressure, because of a combination of the fact that the Fair Food Program is undeniably the best-in-class today in social responsibility, and because, for whatever their particular reason, each new participating buyer was looking to engage with a real social responsibility program when they came to us to join,” he said.

Finally, Sierra Club’s magazine also traced the progress of the Return to Human Rights Tour, highlighting the major mobilization at the heart of the tour, the Parade for Human Rights in Columbus, Ohio, which marked the end of a weeklong fast by Ohio State University students:

A 2,000-MILE, 12-CITY PROTEST FIGHTS FOR FARMWORKER RIGHTS

This group wants fast-food giant Wendy’s to stop sourcing tomatoes from farms with human rights abuses

By Drew Higgins
March 31, 2017

Protesters in Atlanta, Georgia, one of the stops on the 12-city tour | Courtesy of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

A workplace free of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Clean restrooms, shade, and drinking water. Fair wages. These are rights that the acclaimed organizer Cesar Chavez battled to achieve but are still not guarantees for farmworkers in the United States or around the globe.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a Florida-based human-rights group, has continued Chavez’s legacy, fighting to change abysmal farmworker conditions for over 20 years.

Its latest effort? A 2,000-mile, 12-city protest tour calling for a boycott of Wendy’s.

The CIW wants the fast-food behemoth to axe its tomato supply chain. Wendy’s currently buys tomatoes from Mexican farms charged with human rights abuses, Harper’s Magazine reported last year.

Julia de la Cruz, a Florida tomato picker, joined the CIW eight years ago. She says that there are still many farms where “if you speak out in the workplace … you might not have a job the next day,” and where wage theft is common. “You might work a full day’s work and have nothing for all you’ve done.”

Unlike its corporate brethren—McDonald’s, Burger King, Chipotle, and Walmart, among others—Wendy’s doesn’t source tomatoes solely from farms within the CIW’s Fair Food Program (FFP), a workplace watchdog that ensures humane wages and conditions. These farms follow strict codes of conduct that forbid abuses like sexual violence, child labor, and wage theft. When Florida tomato growers adopted the FFP in 2011, Wendy’s stopped purchasing tomatoes from the state. […]

[…]  The CIW has been boycotting the restaurant giant for a year to push it into the FPP. The protest tour caravaned through the Midwest and Southeast, with rallies, pickets, vigils, and gatherings in cities from Tampa to Minneapolis. After 11 days, the movement culminated last Sunday with a “human rights” parade in Columbus, Ohio—just a stone’s throw from Wendy’s corporate headquarters.

Nearly 500 protesters marched through rain and cold at the parade. On a stage, 19 Ohio State University students and alumni broke a seven-day fast that called for the university to cut its contract with a Wendy’s on campus.

For OSU senior Mara Momenee, abstaining from food made her think about the way we mindlessly consume it.

“That’s something that as a company, Wendy’s profits off of. Targeting young people they think are just mouths and wallets,” Momenee said. “With this fast, we wanted to send the signal loud and clear that as consumers, we care about where our food comes from.”

Wendy’s hasn’t budged so far. The company announced last October that it is “quite happy with the quality and taste of the tomatoes we are sourcing from Mexico.”

But the CIW remains confident in consumer action. In the mid-2000s, its “Boycott the Bell” national campaign pushed Taco Bell into paying tomato pickers a penny more per pound. Other companies soon fell in line. And because corporations demanded it, Florida’s tomato industry—which grows 90 percent of the country’s winter tomatoes—adopted humane practices under the FFP. Now the FFP is expanding to new crops and states, all because customers spoke up at the cash register… Read more

And that’s just the beginning!  Here’s the full list of media that came out following the Tour, starting off with one more bonus highlight from Tampa:

About 200 march on South Tampa Publix, Wendy’s to protest farm-worker exploitation

By Anastasia Dawson, Times Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 29, 2017 

[…] Wendy’s got on the coalition’s radar last year, when the company began purchasing tomatoes from Mexico instead of it’s traditional vendors in Florida after the FFP began seeking reforms in the industry.

A brief protest and candle-light vigil outside the Kennedy Boulevard fast-food restaurant during rush hour Wednesday marked the final stop in the coalition’s 2,000-mile, 12-city “Return to Human Rights Tour.”

One after another, potential Wendy’s customers chatted with police officers and took photos with their cell phones before making a U-turn in the parking lot and heading to the nearby Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell or McDonald’s.

“For me it means a lot because I see the changes where I work,” said Cruz Salucio, as he marched across Kennedy Boulevard while scores of Tampa police officers on bicycles held back traffic.

“Before the bosses felt like they could get away with anything and you were in an environment where you weren’t respected,” said Salucio, a 32-year-old who has worked in Immokalee’s tomato fields for about 10 years. “Now we’re starting to get the things that other workers take for granted, like being able to punch in and punch out so there’s a record of how many hours you work, or having access to shade and clean drinking water.”

Other extreme abuses in the fields, such as sexual harassment and wage theft, have also declined dramatically since the FFP’s inception, said the Rev. Noelle Damico, an organizer with the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative.

Students such 21-year-old Alex Schelle, a social services major at New College of Florida in Sarasota, have spread the movement to campuses across the country. Next week, students at New College will fast to draw attention to the coalition’s efforts, Schelle said.

“It’s really awesome how communities of faith and students can be drawn together to use their consumer powers to let these corporations know that this is already a successful program and all they have to do is join,” Schelle said.  Read more…

COVERAGE OF COLUMBUS & WEEKLONG FAST

“The pain and power of fasting are familiar to us, and we know from experience that it is no small sacrifice. Right now there is always an empty seat at our table for Wendy’s to come sit with us.”
– Santiago Perez, CIW

CITY BY CITY COVERAGE OF TOUR

“But, how are colleges extra powerful? … If universities publicly cut ties with companies because they stand for conflicting values which strip people of their human rights, they land a huge blow on the company image.
– Ania Szczesniewski, Vanderbilt University

Gainesville, Florida

Tampa, Florida