Chanting “Exploitation has got to go!” dozens of farm workers and supporters converged on the Wendy’s restaurant in north Minneapolis Monday, calling on the company to honor the human rights of the workers who help produce their food.
The protest was part of a 2,000-mile, 14-stop “Return to Human Rights Tour” to urge a consumer boycott of Wendy’s until it joins the Fair Food Program, an action already taken by its competitors – McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell. The campaign is sponsored by the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
The workers who pick the tomatoes that go into Wendy’s hamburgers work long days in the hot sun, hauling 32-pound buckets of produce, said Lupe Gonzalo, a farm worker who participated in Monday’s action.
The working conditions are difficult, but signatories to the Fair Food Program have introduced improvements, such as access to shade and water; the right to file a complaint without fear of retaliation; the right to work free of sexual harassment and modern slavery; and the first real wage increase in 30 years.
Wendy’s, in contrast, “is evading their responsibility by not participating in the Fair Food Program,” Gonzalo said. “They are opting to profit from farm workers’ poverty.”
The coalition launched the national boycott of Wendy’s in 2016 after the company shifted its purchases from Florida to Mexico following the implementation of the Fair Food Program.
“Rather than support U.S. growers setting new standards for human rights in the agricultural industry, Wendy’s took its tomato purchases to an industry where wage theft, sexual violence, modern-day slavery and other human rights abuses have been widely reported,” the coalition said.
In an October 2016 statement, Wendy’s responded to concerns about human rights abuse in their supply chain: “We are quite happy with the quality and taste of the tomatoes we are sourcing from Mexico.”
Members of CTUL – a Minneapolis-based worker center – and other groups, such as the movement for a $15 minimum wage in Minneapolis, participated in Monday’s action.
Steven Suffridge, a McDonald’s worker and CTUL member, told the crowd that “working people have to make a lot of sacrifices - whether we're in the fields picking tomatoes or serving the burgers!"
Minneapolis was the fifth stop in the Coalition’s tour to call attention to the one-year anniversary of the Wendy’s boycott.
At the same time, the organization is celebrating the success of the Fair Food Program, which the New York Times heralded as “the best workplace-monitoring program” in the United States. The groundbreaking partnership connects farm workers, Florida tomato growers and 14 major food retailers, including McDonald’s, Burger King and Walmart.
Participating retailers agree to purchase exclusively from suppliers who meet a worker-driven Code of Conduct, which includes a zero-tolerance policy for slavery and sexual harassment. Retailers also pay a “penny-per-pound” premium, which is passed down through the supply chain and paid out directly to workers by their employers.
Since the program’s inception in 2011, buyers have paid over $23 million into the FFP. In 2015, the program expanded for the first time beyond Florida to tomato fields in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and New Jersey, and in the 2015-2016 season, the Fair Food Program expanded to two new Florida crops, strawberries and bell peppers.
Workers are organizing through unions and other organizations to improve their lives. Union representation provides a voice on the job and the opportunity to improve wages, benefits and working conditions.