CIW Makes its Case for Fair Food at Wendy’s Shareholder Meeting

Using an exciting new tactic to push for worker’s rights from within, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) attended the annual Wendy’s shareholder meeting in Dublin, Ohio last week. They were joined by over 25 allies, including UUSC. The group represented over half of all the shareholders in the room, and they used their presence to turn up the pressure on Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program (FFP or Program). Outside the meeting, over 60 allied-organizations rallied to urge the company to support workers’ rights and economic justice at Wendy’s headquarters.

Throughout the Q&A session, moderated by the Chairman of the Board Nelson Peltz, CIW and its allies shared statements and posed hard-hitting questions to Wendy’s executives about their refusal to join the FFP. The Program would ensure humane wages and working conditions for the farmworkers who supply their produce to Wendy’s, at the cost of an additional cent per pound of tomatoes, which is used to raise wages for the farmworkers. The penny is distributed by the corporations to the growers, who then directly distribute it the farmworkers in the form of a line-item bonus.

CIW co-founder Lucas Benitez recounted how the Program had improved conditions for him personally, as well as hundreds of Florida farmworkers.

“I have been a farmworker since I was 17-years-old.  I have seen, up close, the two worlds – the one which we are coming from, and the one we’re in today thanks to the power of the corporations that are working together with us. Among them are Wendy’s principal competitors, including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell. Thanks to this market power, we are now eliminating abuses that have been endemic in the U.S. agriculture industry. Forced labor, modern-day slavery, the sexual harassment that has been the bread of every day for the millions of farmworker women who labor in the fields.”

Benitez also extended an invitation to Wendy’s executives to come to Immokalee and visit an FFP-certified farm to see the impact that the Program has on the industry firsthand.

Wendy’s Way: Being on the Defensive

Throughout the meeting, Wendy’s took a defensive, and at times combative, approach to the comments and questions from CIW and its allies. During her presentation on the Wendy’s Code of Conduct, which took place before the Q&A, Chief Communications Officer Liliana Esposito recognized the group’s presence, remarking, “It’s not pleasant for us to see our brand criticized on a regular basis.”

Esposito also misrepresented the FFP, incorrectly claiming that CIW’s aim is to get financial contributions from Wendy’s. Contrary to Esposito’s assertion, the penny more per pound paid as part of the Program goes directly to the suppliers, who pay the farmworkers – CIW never sees or handles the funds.

Esposito was not the only executive feeling the pressure. Chairman Peltz was also on the defensive. In fact, before the meeting, Rabbi Daniel Kirzane of T’ruah sent a letter, signed by over 200 fellow rabbis, requesting to meet with Peltz and discuss the FFP. During the Q&A Kirzane followed up on his request, to which Peltz replied pointedly: “If it’s about fair food, it isn’t going to happen.”

Once it became apparent that CIW and its allies had taken over the Q&A, a frustrated Peltz requested that there be no more questions on the FFP. When the questions kept coming, Peltz ended the meeting, leaving CIW’s questions unanswered and unaddressed.

A Key Question Remains

Wendy’s executives were clearly flustered by the strong support for the Program inside and outside of the building. However, Wendy’s continues to resist the call to join the FFP.

How does Wendy’s justify this refusal? They claim that their supplier code of conduct offers sufficient, and has even strengthened, human rights and labor protections for their suppliers. This rationale is incredibly misleading, as Wendy’s supplier code of conduct is simply guidance with little consequence for non-compliance and does not give workers a voice. The FPP’s protections, on the other hand, include mandatory prohibitions against child labor, physical violence, and sexual harassment.

Wendy’s talks frequently about how they “create joy and opportunity through food, family, and community.” But Wendy’s refusal to join the FFP makes it clear that this family and community does not include the farmworkers who handpick their produce. Indeed, Wendy’s has a solution to the issue of farmworker poverty and exploitation right in front of it and the opportunity to lift an entire industry up.

With this in mind, a key question remains: How long will it take for Wendy’s to stand by its purported values and end the abuse of its workers by joining the Fair Food Program?Now is the time for us to keep the pressure on Wendy’s. Join CIW and UUSC as they continue their call for justice by pledging to boycott Wendy’s, organizing a protest, or by sending postcards explaining why you’re boycotting to Wendy’s headquarters. Also, keep checking UUSC’s website for more updates and ways to be involved.

UUSC Continues to Push Wendy’s to Honor Workers’ Rights

White flag with "Fair Food" logo flying in front of a Wendy's fast food restaurantWendy’s is the last of the major U.S. fast food chains to refuse to join the Fair Food Program of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW).

This Program improves pay and working conditions for farmworkers in the tomato fields through partnerships between businesses, growers, and farmworkers which ensure that the people who supply the produce used by the companies are treated with dignity and respect.

“Last week, in support of CIW’s Return to Human Rights Tour, UUSC President & CEO Tom Andrews sent the following letter to Todd A. Penegor, head of the Wendy’s Company, continuing our call for Wendy’s to join on to this innovative, human-rights program.

Mr. Todd A. Penegor
President and Chief Executive Officer
The Wendy’s Company
One Dave Thomas Boulevard
Dublin, OH 43017

March 9, 2017

Dear Mr. Penegor,

As the President and Chief Executive Officer at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), a non-sectarian human rights organization, I stand proudly with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in calling on Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program through their upcoming “Return to Human Rights Tour” and ongoing boycott. Signing onto the Fair Food Program is the only way for Wendy’s to follow through on its stated commitments to social responsibility and human rights.

As your Supplier Code of Conduct states: “People are our most valuable asset. Collectively, it is the respect and dignity we hold for each individual and value we place on trusted relationships that enables our mutual success. To that end, we take all human rights and labor practices issues seriously and expect the same from our Suppliers.” Such a statement rings hollow, given your company’s decision to abandon your tomato suppliers in Florida and to shift your tomato purchases to Mexico, where human rights violations are rampant, in order to avoid the pressure to join the Fair Food Program.

Moreover, the recent updates to the Wendy’s Supplier Code of Conduct do not go far enough. The vague promises of “third party reviews” of only certain produce suppliers fall short of what is required for Wendy’s to make good on its claims of “respect and dignity” for each individual or its commitment to human rights. Third party audits give workers little or no voice to raise their concerns, and fail to address the violations that happen outside the timeframe during which the audit is conducted. The shortcomings of your recent updates are made even more glaring given that the Fair Food Program has, time and time again, been recognized as the benchmark for the protection of human rights in corporate supply-chains. There is no need for vague promises of third party reviews, when an internationally renowned program already exists.

The time has come for Wendy’s to make good on its promises of respecting human rights and sign onto the Fair Food Program, as so many of your competitors already have. Until Wendy’s gets with the Program, UUSC will continue to stand with CIW in calling on Wendy’s to finally make good on its promises to respect human rights.

Sincerely,

Hon. Thomas Andrews
President and Chief Executive Officer
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

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. This week’s Rights Readings highlights focus on our partners the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the effect of climate change in Alaska.

rinaldikidsprotest03

In Downtown Crossing, a picket line of fifth-graders, Cristela Guerra, The Boston Globe, December 12, 2016.

Earlier this week, fifth-graders from the Boston Workmen’s Circle Center for Jewish Culture and Social Justice in Brookline, Mass. proved that you’re never too young to protest. Chanting, “Hold the burgers, hold the shakes. A penny more is all it takes!” these students showed solidarity with UUSC partners, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). “I believe in justice for everyone,” 11-year-old Jasper Milstein said.

Wendy’s is the last of the major U.S. fast food chains to refuse to join the Fair Food Program. This program improves pay and working conditions for farmworkers in the tomato fields. It also supports partnerships between businesses, growers, and farmworkers to ensure that the people who supply their produce are treated with dignity and respect. CIW has organized a boycott of the restaurant that is over 75,000 strong. Join them here!

 

A Wrenching Choice for Alaska Towns in the Path of Climate Change, Erica Goode, The New York Times, November 29, 2016.

Shaktoolik, a village of 250 people in Alaska, is facing an imminent threat from increased flooding and erosion, due to climate change. The state is warming about twice as fast as the rest of the United States, and many indigenous communities are increasingly vulnerable to rising seas.

The United States has identified at least 31 Alaskan towns and cities at risk of destruction.

The choice these communities face is between a costly, decades-long relocation and the risk of staying and losing everything. As the effects of climate change continue, the situation is likely to only worsen.