The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), along with the Alliance for Fair Food, has created the Fair Food Program which they say is “a groundbreaking partnership among workers, growers, and major retail brands like McDonald’s, Whole Foods, and Burger King that is ending decades of farmworker poverty and powerlessness.” The hamburger chain Wendy’s refuses to join in, but a coalition is upping the pressure on the company with a new campaign.
For far too long farmworkers in the U.S. have faced abuse, both physical and verbal, along with racial discrimination and even wage theft. As many as 80 percent of women working in the farm industry have reported sexual harassment on the job according to a 2010 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Fair Food Program is aimed at addressing these types of problems. “With this program, the women who pick tomatoes to support their families no longer have to leave their dignity in the tomato fields,” said farmworker leader Nely Rodriguez. “Women now have a voice and a way to stop the harassment and abuse that has happened for too long.”
The demands, which have so far fallen on deaf ears at Wendy’s over the last three years, finally resulted in a nationwide boycott launched in March 2016. The campaign has been picking up steam, gaining support from a wide range of religious and political organizations. The CIW and their supporters are simply asking that Wendy’s join their counterparts and sign on to the Fair Food Program to ensure the human rights of the farmworkers they rely on are protected.
Now, with a Change.org petition reaching nearly 50,000 signatures, the CIW has garnered two more major supporters. One is the National Council of Churches (NCC), a group that also supported the CIW during its 2003 boycott of Taco Bell. The NCC has a long history of standing up and supporting the fair food movement, and their decision to do so once again comes as little surprise.
The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights has also formally endorsed the boycott. Like the NCC, the RFK Center has previously supported the work of CIW.
The costs associated with the agreement are estimated to be as little as one penny per pound of food, so low that the company could sign it and not even have to pass on the cost to consumers. Yet, even if they wanted to, studies have shown that consumers are willing to pay more for products if workers’ human rights needs are met. This is apparent now by the consumer outcry for Wendy’s to sign on to the program.
In fact, Wendy’s is actively running away from the Fair Food Program, a program the New York Times called the “best workplace-monitoring program” in the U.S. Wendy’s abandoned the Florida tomato industry after it signed a Fair Food Agreement, and then pulled a corporate stunt the likes of Wal-Mart after the 2013 Bangladesh factory collapse and announced their own “code of conduct.”
The Alliance for Fair Food called Wendy’s own code of conduct “completely void of effective enforcement mechanisms to protect farmworkers’ human rights.”
The code of conduct is simply a public relations ploy. It’s a collection of pretty words that sound empowering to the worker, while not meeting a single demand or working to improve the safety or living conditions of the farmers. Instead, it appeases the ruling class and makes the consumer believe the company is fighting for the rights of workers while continuing to profit off the workers while not addressing their basic needs.