10 days this month, it might have been a page out of the 1960s, when
farm workers and their supporters fought to have their work
recognized as a vital part of the American food system, although
their bosses wanted to keep them in the shadows, so their starvation
wages and toxic working conditions could be kept in the shadows.
Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) took its case for higher pay and
healthy working conditions, March 2-12, to cities on the East Coast,
from New York to Palm Beach, Florida, and places along the way. The
CIW calls it the “Campaign for Fair Food,” and for many
Americans, their campaign brought their working conditions out of the
far, the CIW campaign has been successful in demanding that major
food corporations require that those who provide their tomatoes pay 1
cent more per pound for the crop that is picked for their
restaurants, but on holdout is Wendy’s hamburger chain that not
only refused to demand the 1-cent raise, but switched suppliers from
Florida to Mexico, where the farm workers’ conditions are worse
than the worst conditions in the U.S.
CIW stated: “Wendy’s is profiting from farm worker
Wendy’s stands alone as the last of the five major U.S. fast
food corporations to refuse to join the FFP (Fair Food Program):
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…”
The led-led group has called for a nationwide boycott of Wendy’s
and the 10-day march down the East Coast was designed to bring news
of the boycott to the people.
the members of CIW and their supporters went to one of the most
exclusive neighborhoods in the country, location of an endless array
of multi-million-dollar homes, one of which is the vacation home of
Nelson Peltz, chairman of the board of Wendy’s. As the
marchers declared: “We are here to remind Nelson Peltz that
there is something more important than money: Dignity!”
cent per pound of tomatoes picked might not sound like much of a
raise, but it makes the difference between just getting by and living
like they matter in the scheme of things. And, they do matter. The
March in Palm Beach gave the 1-per-centers who live there a chance to
see the faces of the human beings who plant and harvest the food that
they eat in their gourmet restaurants. Or, that their in-house chefs
bring to their own tables.
country’s three largest food service providers (Aramark,
Sodexo, and Compass Group) have signed on to the Fair Food Program.
As CIW has noted: “Not only does the FFP make a substantial
difference for workers’ wages, but it transforms the labor
environment in Florida’s fields into a workplace rooted in
mutual respect and basic dignity for farm workers.” And,
that’s because the Code of Conduct that corporations sign is a
human rights-based code that transforms the conditions in which the
work is performed on the farms.
in addition to bringing Wendy’s into human rights conformance,
CIW is turning to the $550 billion supermarket industry, in which
some chains already have signed the agreements for fair food.
Already signed are: Trader Joe’s, 1012; Whole Foods, 2008;
Wal-Mart, 2014; and Ahold USA and The Fresh Market, both of which
signed in 2015. The CIW has turned its efforts on the other major
U.S. supermarket chains, asking them and their customers to demand
that suppliers sign the agreement for fair food and decent conditions
for the workers. Tens of thousands of customers already have signed.
Those who wish to sign as customers of their favorite food chain can
get the information by visiting: www.ciw-online.org.
mass march to Palm Beach could be considered the mid-point in the CIW
effort to bring U.S. retail food chains and their suppliers into
conformity with a human rights agenda and the group’s success
so far has been remarkable. It has not been easy. The first win
was an agreement with Taco Bell in the early 2000s and, since then,
it has been a long period of hard work on the part of thousands of
farm workers and their supporters. More of the same lies ahead. CIW
pointed out that Wendy’s
spokesperson Bob Bertini said, “We take all human rights and
labor practices issues seriously and expect the same from our
But the farm workers are not satisfied with “expect,”
rather they want Wendy’s to “demand” that the
company’s suppliers adhere to the human rights principles
adhered to by the companies that have signed agreements.
all Palm Beach residents ignore or are hostile to the farm workers
and their quest for justice. Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert F.
Kennedy, lives in Palm Beach and was with CIW and the marchers during
their 2.7-mile walk to the rally site, reminiscent of her husband’s
support of farm workers in an earlier time.
is also remarkable about the march is what it says about the state of
working men and women (and children, too) in America. That they
have to fight every day for a
increase in their pay is an indictment of the poverty of the legal
system that allows people to work in heat of the day, in fields that
have been sprayed with chemicals, and go without proper sanitation or
fresh water, and be paid a fraction of what they should be paid.
can do better than that for those who allow them to put food on the
table every day. It’s the right thing to do, and even a simple
thing like signing a petition or calling for a boycott of Wendy’s.
Then, follow through and…boycott Wendy’s.