Wendy’s Board Chairman and billionaire investor Nelson Peltz to rabbis: “I have plenty of rabbis in my life…”

A delegation of rabbis from T’ruah: A Rabbinic Call for Human Rights in the main lobby of the offices of Wendy’s Board Chairman, Nelson Peltz, in Manhattan this past Monday

Rabbis to Peltz: “Mr. Peltz had better prepare himself to have more and more rabbis in his life.”

T’ruah:  “Each day that you continue to turn your back on farmworkers, and on our shared Jewish commitments to liberation from slavery, fair wages, and dignified working conditions, more and more rabbis will call on you — and Wendy’s — to forswear exploitation and support human rights…”

“… The first principle enshrined in the opening chapter of the Torah teaches us that every human being is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God; therefore each person deserves to be treated with equal and infinite respect. Corporate social responsibility must begin with a commitment to the human rights of the workers who make your products and profit possible. By that measure, Wendy’s has failed.”

For years now, T’ruah: A Rabbinic Call for Human Rights has been among the Campaign for Fair Food’s most spirited, stalwart and creative allies, taking to the streets as well as social media to take corporate executives who have turned their backs on human rights to task.  And ever since 2014, the aptly-named “Tomato Rabbis” have been on the front lines of the Wendy’s Campaign and Boycott.  In particular, T’ruah has been unrelenting in calling on Wendy’s Board Chairman Nelson Peltz to act on their shared Jewish values and leverage his formidable influence within Wendy’s to bring the corporation into the Fair Food fold.

Over the last several weeks, the rabbis’ campaign of pressure on Mr. Peltz has heated up, including a delegation this week by T’ruah rabbis to Mr. Peltz’s Manhattan offices.  For the latest news, we turn to Tomato Rabbi extraordinaire Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster for a first-hand account:

Since 2014, T’ruah has been reaching out to Nelson Peltz, Wendy’s major shareholder, urging him to use his power to bring Wendy’s into the Fair Food Program.  This year, in the lead up to last month’s Wendy’s shareholder meeting in Columbus, Ohio, we sent a letter signed by more than 350 rabbis and cantors to Mr. Peltz. Our letter read in part:

In Jewish tradition, transparency is one of the hallmarks of leadership.  The rabbis taught that Moses–the paradigmatic model for a leader in the Torah–created public accountability for the funds collected from the Israelites to build the Holy Tabernacle to ensure there was clear integrity to this sacred task.  We are baffled that you would choose the vague promises of your Mexican suppliers over the transparent results of the Fair Food Program, which has been lauded by both the White House and the United Nations for its verifiable impact on human rights protections for farmworkers in corporate supply chains. 

This letter, too, was met with silence from both Wendy’s and Mr. Peltz. With the strength of his T’ruah colleagues behind him, Rabbi Daniel Kirzane came face to face with Mr. Peltz at the Wendy’s shareholder meeting, demanding to know when the Chairman would meet with T’ruah to discuss the FFP (You can read the full account of the shareholder meeting here!).  In that moment, the truth came out: Mr. Peltz was finally forced to say out loud that if the topic of discussion was the Fair Food Program, “there would be no meeting.” He then added, “I have plenty of rabbis in my life. My life is full of rabbis.”

Of course, we could not let a challenge like that go unanswered.  Until Wendy’s joins the Fair Food Program, Mr. Peltz had better prepare himself to have more and more rabbis in his life.

On Monday, we brought our message of #NotEnoughRabbis directly to the New York offices of Trian Partners (the investment firm run by Mr. Peltz).  We approached the security desk and had them call up to Mr. Peltz’s 41st floor office:  “Tell them we are a group of rabbis from T’ruah and that we would like to meet with Nelson Peltz about the Fair Food Program.”  Although we had been prepared to protest in the lobby, we were pleasantly surprised that we were given permission to go upstairs.  

This pleasantness was short-lived: when we reached Trian’s reception desk, the receptionist was insistent that we could not meet with Mr. Peltz without a scheduled meeting.  She persisted even when reminded that Mr. Peltz had given us no choice but to arrive unexpectedly, since he had publicly said he would not meet with us.  We left her another copy of the rabbi letter, receiving assurances that it would be passed along.

We then began to protest right outside the Trian office, complete with the sounding of the shofar (a kind of trumpet made out of a ram’s horn), chanting, and the loud recitation of a T’ruah statement, which read in part:

What do we want? Justice for farmworkers! When do we want it? Now!…

Each day that you continue to turn your back on farmworkers, and on our shared Jewish commitments to liberation from slavery, fair wages, and dignified working conditions, more and more rabbis will call on you–and Wendy–to forswear exploitation and support human rights…

What would you hear if you agreed to listen to us? As rabbis and cantors guided by the biblical insistence that every human being is an equal creation in the divine image, the memory of our own people’s slavery and liberation, and Jewish law mandating fair wages and treatment of workers, we  believe that fair wages and human rights constitute non-negotiable ingredients of a just, sustainable food industry. The Fair Food Program has dramatically improved conditions in the tomato fields of seven states. These advances benefit tens of thousands of workers, major tomato growers, and participating corporations — including your top competitors McDonald’s, Subway, and Burger King.

The first principle enshrined in the opening chapter of the Torah teaches us that every human being is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God; therefore each person deserves to be treated with equal and infinite respect. Corporate social responsibility must begin with a commitment to the human rights of the workers who make your products and profit possible. By that measure, Wendy’s has failed.

Needless to say, all of this noise and commotion did not go over well — especially the shofar and the singing. Security was called, reminding us to “show respect” to the people who were working in the Trian offices.  The rabbis thought this insistence on respect was ironic, given Wendy’s refusal to respect the human rights of the farmworkers in their supply chain.  Clearly, “respect” means the right to work free of bothersome noises — but not the right to work free of the threat of violence, wage theft, and sexual harassment. 

After several minutes, the flustered security guard managed to herd us into the elevator and downstairs. While we were greeted by more building security when we emerged, they allowed us to march slowly through the building, proudly displaying our #BoycottWendys banner to many of the people who work in the building (and — thanks to 280 Park Avenue’s majestic glass walls — to many of those on the street). 

After the protest was over, the rabbis present committed to further escalation again Mr. Peltz.  It is imminently clear that contrary to his perception of the matter, Mr. Peltz does not have nearly enough rabbis in his life, to be living without the most basic of moral compasses.  Until Wendy’s joins the Fair Food Program, more and more rabbis will call on him — and Wendy’s — to make a real, tangible commitment to human rights.

And that’s a wrap for the latest update from T’ruah and the front lines of the Wendy’s Boycott!  Check back next week for more from the CNN Freedom Project, and from the Campaign for Fair Food!

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