A chilling reminder of farm labor conditions in Mexico: 80 farmworkers go missing after reporting labor abuses in the state of Chihuahua…

Farmworkers are transported to the fields crowded into the back of a truck in Mexico’s tomato fields in a photo from the Los Angeles Times’ devastating 2014 exposé on labor conditions in the Mexican produce industry.

Meanwhile, at last month’s annual meeting, Wendy’s execs tell shareholders concerned about labor rights abuses that the company is “perfectly happy with the quality and taste of the tomatoes [we are sourcing] from Mexico.”

And OSU administrators reward their corporate neighbor’s callous indifference…

Late last month, news broke of the disappearance of 80 indigenous Mexican farmworkers who vanished from a farm near Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, after they reported illegal wage deductions for food and housing that cut in half their already desperately low wages.  When the authorities arrived to the farm to investigate the complaint, all 80 workers had disappeared, along with the unidentified recruiter who had originally brought them from the small indigenous town of Camargo.  

Here is the full translated report from El Proceso from May 29:

CIUDAD DE MÉXICO (apro).- One week after  being removed from a farm where they worked as day laborers, the Labor and Social Security Secretariat (STPS) of Chihuahua reported that Monday it began to search for 80 indigenous people who were exploited at work.

According to information released by El Diario Mx, staff from the STPS and other agencies came to the Camargo shelter for temporary workers to investigate the report of labor abuse that they received on Sunday the 21st, but the farmworkers had already been taken away and could not be located.

José Domínguez, head supervisor of the STPS, commented that the agency’s staff traveled on Monday to visit the municipal shelter for day laborers, built during the past administration with resources from the Federal Department of Social Development and administered by the municipality.

He stated that the visit was due to the receipt of a complaint that 80 indigenous people from the Baborigame region, in Guadalupe and Calvo municipality, were being exploited by being paid low wages and being charged with ”benefits”, such as food and transportation, which left them with a wage lower than 90 pesos per eight hour work day.

According to the state official, it appeared that the person in charge of the group, who recruits workers from rural communities, was put on notice and thus decided to take the day laborers away without giving information on where they are working now.

He indicated that it is difficult to follow the trail, since often the real name of the “enganchador” is not known, (“enganchador” is the colloquial term for a recruiter).

Among the abuses reported in the complaint is that the laborers were offered a salary of 180 pesos per day, but 90 pesos for each meal, mainly burritos, and about 20 pesos for transportation were deducted from their pay.

Domínguez emphasized that the mobility of the recruiters allows them to be in other regions of the area in a matter of hours, since the groups are easily moved in any kind of transportation.

This deeply troubling report underscores both the vulnerability of migrant farmworkers in Mexico and the retaliation that they all too often face if they dare to seek justice.  It is worth mentioning in this context that, also last month, an investigative report described Mexico as the “second most dangerous country in the world,” second only to Syria in the amount of intentional homicides in the year of 2016: 23,000.

Even as these reports were making headlines in May, Wendy’s executives were reassuring concerned shareholders at the company’s annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, that its see-no-evil auditing approach was up to the task of protecting farmworkers’ fundamental human rights in Mexico.  When Mexico’s extensively documented history of brutal farm labor exploitation was repeatedly brought to the floor during the Q&A session of the meeting, CEO Todd Penegor stunningly responded that those reports were “from years ago” and that Wendy’s had “been down there recently and seen changes” as documented by the corporation’s audits.  Indeed, in the words of Wendy’s Chief Communications Officer Liliana Esposito, Wendy’s remains “perfectly happy with the quality and taste of the tomatoes [it is sourcing] from Mexico.”  During this same shareholder meeting, Ms. Esposito reported that Wendy’s had “once again achieved 100% affirmation” from all suppliers that are covered by the code that they are “aware of and adhering to the obligations that we have put forward for them.”

Almost simultaneously, OSU administrators announced (only after students had left for the summer) that they too were perfectly comfortable with Wendy’s flight from Florida for the tomato fields of Mexico, and had therefore decided to renew Wendy’s lease to do business on campus, with this terse email:

Dear Amanda,

Ohio State worked with Wendy’s actively for two years as it developed a new Code of Conduct. The code specifies measures put in place by Wendy’s to ensure that workers picking tomatoes are doing so under safe and appropriate conditions.

We are pleased that the code extends to all produce suppliers for Wendy’s restaurants and covers workers throughout the United States and Canada.

We will have the ability to verify adherence to the code with onsite inspections at any time of our choosing.

We have renewed the lease with Wendy’s for a term of three years.

Sincerely,

Jay Kasey
Senior Vice President, Administration and Planning

Unfortunately for Wendy’s, and for the OSU administration, Mexico’s brutal reality has its own logic and is not concerned with the nothing-to-see-here narratives woven by disingenuous public relations professionals and their incognizant academic partners.  Superficial audits and suppliers’ self-reporting stand no chance against the harsh imperatives of Mexico’s grinding poverty and systemic violence, and in the information age in which conditions of workers in global supply chains are inevitably exposed, Wendy’s empty claims of compliance and progress — and OSU’s complicity in that charade — will not survive for long.  

Indeed, tens of thousands of consumers of conscience — including Florida’s faith community, whose leaders are gearing up for a rolling fast of their own following last spring’s remarkable student fast — have already had enough of Wendy’s callous indifference and are taking action to back the burgeoning national boycott.  This latest reminder of unchecked farm labor exploitation in Mexico will only add fuel to that righteous fire, and propel plans for what is sure to be an exciting fall semester on the OSU campus and campuses across the country, as well.  

Stay tuned for more from the Wendy’s Boycott front in the weeks ahead… 

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