Advocacy Report Back

In the past few months, thousands and thousands of UUSC supporters have taken action in support of social justice and human rights. Thank you! Whether you’ve shown up at a rally, signed a petition, or taken a moment to read one of our recent reports—your partnership in this work is making a difference.

Here’s an update on some of our activities and how you can get involved in challenging injustice and advancing human rights. Make sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all the latest news!

Economic Justice

IW #BoycottWendys in Columbus, OhioIn late June, over 50 protestors took to the streets of Columbus, Ohio in support of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ boycott of Wendy’s for failing to sign the Fair Food Program.

Wendy’s is the only U.S. fast food chain that has refused to join the Fair Food Program. Signing onto this program would require them to pay just one penny per pound more for the tomatoes they buy, and ensure things like better healthcare and working conditions for their workers. Nearly 9,000 UUSC supporters have signed a petition to Wendy’s leadership demanding the company join McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Taco Bell, and Chipotle in committing to fair treatment and improved wages for farmworkers. These petitions were delivered directly to Wendy’s headquarters in Dublin, Ohio!

In May, the #GoodFoodNow coalition delivered over 130,000 petitions to Olive Gardens in seven cities asking for fair wages for workers, local and organic food options, and improved animal welfare.

Darden, the company that owns Olive Garden, has already agreed to one of the coalition’s demands, but we’re continuing to increase the pressure. More than 2,000 UUSC supporters have sent messages directly to Darden’s management, asking Olive Garden to prioritize these changes.

Rights at Risk

detention center in Karnes, Texas
The detention center in Karnes, Texas, where families have endured and continue to endure jail-like conditions.

On Wednesday, June 1, a Texas district judge issued a temporary injunction preventing the state from issuing a child care license to a for-profit immigration detention center in Dilley, Texas, while a case against granting that license is being heard. Meanwhile, as news of the inhumane conditions in these centers spreads, private prison management companies are struggling to find partners to collaborate in the opening of new family detention facilities. In June, the county commissioners in both Jim Wells and Dimmit Counties unanimously rejected proposals to locate for-profit family detention centers in their jurisdiction. We’re excited that the tide seems to be turning toward justice for asylum-seeking families and will continue to follow these developments closely.

UUSC has long been a vocal advocate for the tens of thousands of refugees who are coming to the United States after fleeing violence in Central America. As part of a coalition led by Grassroots Leadership and RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services), we are working to stop the routine detention of asylum-seeking mothers and children. Our coalition also stands against the documented abuses of traumatized family members at the hands of U.S. Border Patrol officials, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the staff of private, for-profit detention centers.

And we’re also driving forward changes in policy toward these refugees. Thousands of UUSC activists have supported this work by calling on Congress to pass the act to ensure refugee children are fairly represented before deportation hearings – and thanks to your actions, nearly 50 more senators and representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.

On Mother’s Day, hundreds of UUSC supporters co-signed a Mother’s Day card to Michelle Obama and other White House moms, asking them to visit one of the immigrant detention centers and meet with the mothers there. UUSC worked with a group of formerly detained immigrants to deliver these cards, with flowers, to White House staff.

Environmental Justice

Last month, we released a  research report, The Invisible Crisis: Water Unaffordability in the United States, which sheds new light on the breadth of the country’s water crisis; pinpoints the sources of unequal access to clean, affordable water; and reveals the harsh reality people face when they can’t afford basic water and sanitation services.

In April, more than 3,000 UUSC supporters sent messages to the EPA, calling on them to include water affordability in the national climate adaptation plan. And staff member Hannah Hafter delivered them in a meeting with EPA Senior Policy Advisor Jeff Peterson.

And in February, UUSC, the National Coalition on Legislation for Affordable Water (NCLAWater), and other groups went to Capitol Hill to raise public awareness and press for federal legislation to make water and sanitation services affordable for all; to stop mass water shutoffs; to win new protections for vulnerable populations at risk of losing their access to clean, affordable water; and to end criminalization of individuals who cannot pay their water bills.

How You Can Take Action

  • #BoycottWendys and join an action in your area with our partners at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
  • Looking for ways to #WelcomeRefugees? Join the UUSC Refugee Rapid Response Network to connect with others who are protecting the rights of the world’s refugees. As a member of this new network, you’ll receive special alerts on how you can take action in your community to benefit individual refugees and counter anti-immigrant bigotry.
  • Learn more about how you can take action to address the world’s refugee crisis via our Refugee Support and Advocacy Toolkit.
  • Donate to support UUSC’s work as we advance justice at home and worldwide. All donations above $125 will be matched, dollar-for-dollar!

We’re amazed by the things we can achieve when we come together and speak out for justice. Thank you for your support and dedication – every time you stand up for human rights!

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss.

1. “Nepal’s Earthquake Widows Struggle to Survive,” Gopal Sharma, The World Post, June 22, 2016.

More than a year after the two earthquakes that killed over 9,000 people in Nepal, many women have to “fend for themselves in a country where widows face hostility, abuse, discrimination, and even enslavement.”

UUSC partner organization Women for Human Rights (WHR) contributed much of the information in Gopal Sharma’s article, including this quote from Lily Thapa, founder and head of WHR. “There is superstition and stigmatization. Widows have no status.”

With half a million widows throughout the country, the problem is a serious one, made worse by child marriage, often to much older men. When their husbands die, these young widows can be abandoned by their families, or if they remain with their in-laws, can be confined and treated like servants. Superstition holds widows responsible for their husbands’ deaths; they are treated more harshly the younger their husbands were when they died.

In responding to the earthquake by working with WHR and other women’s rightsto groups, UUSC’s plan reflected its overall approach to disasters: we asked who’s most likely to be overlooked or ignored, who’s doing the most innovative work to empower these marginalized people, and how can we help? In Nepal, this meant focusing on women, girls, children, Dalits, and indigenous peoples.

UUSC funding for WHR is targeted specifically to support its efforts to decrease violence against women and to support earthquake survivors. Learn more about how UUSC and WHR are collaborating in this effort by clicking here.

2. “Unitarians Picket Wendy’s Over Tomato Suppliers,” JD Malone, Columbus Dispatch, June 23, 2016

UUSC representatives attending the UU General Assembly (GA) in Columbus, Ohio, last week weren’t just there for GA itself. They also joined a march on a downtown Columbus Wendy’s restaurant to show solidarity with the Coalition of Immolakee Workers (CIW) and the Fair Food Alliance to demand that the fast food chain join all its major competitors in signing the Fair Food Agreement, a CIW initiative that requires participants to pay one penny more per pound of tomatoes in return for payment of higher wages for food workers, along with better health care and working conditions.

The article by JD Malone includes information provided by a Wendy’s spokesperson about their “encouragement” to suppliers to support human rights, and also puts the threat to Wendy’s business from the Fair Food Alliance boycott in the context of other risks to the company’s bottom line.

Still, the march in Columbus is only the latest in a years-long struggle to bring improved compensation and working conditions for Wendy’s workers, and organizers show no sign of giving up. Click here to learn more about where you might expect to see people marching and chanting, “Why not, Wendy’s?” and how you can join these protests until this last holdout among fast food restaurant chains signs the Fair Food Agreement.

Partner Profile: Asylum Access Tanzania

The right to work and earn a living is a human right, whether people are citizens of the country where they live, or if they are refugees seeking to make a host country their new home. Without this right, refugees can be trapped in a cycle of relying on human service institutions – or private charities – to obtain the basics they need to survive.

Recognizing the need to defend and promote the refugee right to work, in 2016, UUSC developed a partnership with Asylum Access – Refugee Solutions Tanzania (or Asylum Access Tanzania – AATZ – for short). AATZ was founded in 2009 with the mission of making “human rights a reality for nearly 296,000 refugees living in prolonged displacement in Tanzania” and is the only organization in Tanzania that is dedicated exclusively to ensuring the rights of refugees. Tanzania has become a safe haven for people escaping conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and other countries in the Horn of Africa, and today it hosts one of the largest populations of refugees in all of Africa. 

Despite having signed the 1951 Refugee Convention and passage of the Tanzania Refugee Act of 1998, refugees are required to live in camps, where they are denied the right to free movement and cannot seek safe and legal employment. As a result, many refugees flee these camps for Dar es Salaam and other Tanzanian cities, where they face the constant risk of arrest and detention. Without the right to work, they live in poverty on the margins of Tanzanian society. AATZ carries out its work to protect their human rights through three main activities:

  1. Legal Services: AATZ provides refugees with legal assistance to help them win release from unjust detention, access employment and education, reunite with family, and obtain legal permission to remain outside the camps. Their “Know Your Rights” trainings provide information to empower refugees with the information they need to understand their rights and advocate for themselves.
  2. Entrepreneurship and Skills Training: These programs help refugees build employment, income-earning, and leadership skills so they can gain employment and become self-sufficient. Recent programs have been aimed at empowering refugee women through trainings in micro-finance and other work-related skills.
  3. Policy Advocacy: AATZ advocates for changes in law and policy that improve refugees’ access to rights, while working with government officials and global decision-makers to develop and promote solutions to systemic rights violations.

AATZ is a pioneer in the movement to advance the refugee right to work. During Tanzania’s most recent United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights performance, AATZ and its partners released a report that was the first of its kind to address the human rights of refugees in the UPR process for Tanzania.

With support from UUSC, AATZ is carrying out its “Refugee Right to Work Initiative,” benefiting an estimated 1,500 refugees in Tanzania, and thousands more if the anticipated policy changes are implemented.

Philip Hamilton, UUSC Associate for Economic Justice, explains the importance of the new AATZ – UUSC partnership.

“The right to work is enshrined in numerous international and regional human rights documents and guaranteed for all individuals, including refugees. Any effort to limit or prohibit refugees from finding work is a clear violation of the right to work and leaves refugees vulnerable to a number of other rights violations.”

UUSC & UUA Endorse Wendy’s Boycott led by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

On June 22, The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) and Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) joined the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and other organizations to protest Wendy’s failure to sign the Fair Food Program. Wendy’s is the last U.S. fast food chain refusing to guarantee an extra penny-per-pound in pay, along with more dignified working conditions for Florida farmworkers.

Led by President and CEO Bill Schulz, more than 50 UUSC protesters joined the UUA, Alliance for Fair Food, the Food Justice Ministry, Fair Food Ohio, and the Justice Action Ministry of the First UU Church of Columbus, Ohio in picketing a Wendy’s restaurant in downtown Columbus, Ohio, coinciding with the UUA General Assembly held at the nearby Greater Columbus Convention Center. The action was followed by a petition delivery with close to 10,000 signatures to Wendy’s corporate headquarters, just next door to Columbus in Dublin, OH. UUSC’s Associate Director for Justice-Building Pamela Sparr noted, “Consumer action is the best tool we have now to pressure management to do the right thing.”

“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.”[1]

Even today, Wendy’s still refuses to sign onto the Fair Food Program. Here are things you can do to pressure them to join the country’s other fast food restaurant chains:

McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, and Subway have all joined the Fair Food Program, which means that Wendy’s unfairly profits from a cost advantage over its competitors. Another way that Wendy’s has avoided responsibility is by moving to a new tomato supplier based in Mexico.

In April the Coalition of Immokalee Workers called for a “Month of Outrage” following an exposé in Harper’s Magazine that linked Wendy’s to Bioparques, an infamous Mexican tomato company prosecuted for slavery in 2013. According to the article, “Bioparques workers who spoke to [the Los Angeles] Times…described subhuman conditions, with workers forced to work without pay, trapped for months at a time in scorpion-infested camps, often without beds, fed on scraps, and beaten when they tried to quit.”[2] Instead of purchasing from the Florida tomato industry, which is setting new standards in human rights for farmworkers, Wendy’s has moved their purchasing power to a company rife with wage theft, sexual harassment, and child labor.

Florida farmworkers typically are paid at a rate of around 50 cents per 32 pound bucket of tomatoes (Less than 2 cents a pound). An extra penny per pound in a farmworker’s paycheck can mean up to an extra $100 a week, raising their annual wages for their backbreaking labor from about $10,000 a year up to $17,000 – a significant increase, but still below the U.S. Federal Poverty Level for a family of three. In comparison, Bioparques workers earn between $8 and $12 a day.

Hannah Hafter, UUSC’s Senior Program Leader for Activism, who helped organize UUSC’s participation in the Columbus rally, is pleased with efforts to date, but believes there is much still to be done. “The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has had unprecedented success in improving wages and working conditions for farmworkers in Florida. Yet rather than support the Fair Food Program, Wendy’s has started to buy tomatoes from a company in Mexico known for slavery-like conditions for workers. We are proud to be in solidarity with farmworkers by endorsing the Wendy’s Boycott, and we consider the rally at General Assembly and the petition delivery to Wendy’s headquarters only the beginning.”




National Good Food Day of Action

Do you live in Chicago, Washington D.C., Boston, San Francisco, or New York? If so, join UUSC and our partners on May 12 for the National Good Food Day of Action, calling on Olive Garden and Darden Restaurants to adopt the Good Food Principles. As part of this campaign, we’ll be delivering our 100,000+ petition signatures to the managers at local Olive Gardens.

Petition deliveries and rallies on the May 12 Day of Action will be held in:


12:00 p.m. at the Olive Garden in the South Bay Center
11 Allstate Rd, Boston, MA 02125 
10 min walk from the Andrew Red Line station


6:00 p.m. at Olive Garden
3555 W Addison St, Chicago, IL 60618

New York City

11:45 a.m. Assemble at the Starbucks at the North corner of 5th Ave and 26th St
12:30 p.m. Petition Delivery to Olive Garden which is two blocks from gathering place


12:00 p.m. at the Olive Garden
3251 20th Avenue, Space 187, Stonestown Galleria, San Francisco, CA 94132

Washington D.C.

12:00 p.m. at the Mall at Prince Georges
3480 East-West Hwy, Hyattsville, MD 20782
10 min walk from the Prince Georges Plaza Metro Station