By Mike Telian
The students, community, and religious leaders of Pittsburgh took to the streets on November 30th to make it clear they would not support Wendy’s refusal to join the Fair Food Program (FFP). Representatives from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and the Student Farmworker Alliance organized a protest at Wendy’s 4001 Butler Street location to raise awareness for a consumer boycott of Wendy’s launched by farmworkers earlier in the year. The FFP that Wendy’s has refused to join has been called “the best workplace monitoring program… in the U.S.” by the New York Times and was awarded a presidential medal in 2015 for combating human trafficking.
While McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Subway, and Chipotle all participate in the FFP, Wendy’s has opted to shift their purchasing from Florida to Mexico, where there is less oversight into labor practices. Bioparques de Occidente, an agribusiness company Wendy’s now sources from, was found to have been the subject of a major slavery prosecution in 2013, as reported by Harper’s Magazine. Nely Rodriguez of the CIW stated, “Wendy’s is quick to offer their Supplier Code of Conduct as their substitute for the Fair Food Program – and as their reason for not joining. But without any effective measures for enforcement or worker participation, Wendy’s code does not measure up to the standard of the Fair Food Program. In the Program, retailers are bound to purchase tomatoes exclusively from growers that abide by a worker-designed code of conduct that includes zero tolerance for forced labor and sexual assault.”
Under the FFP, corporate purchasers agree to pay an extra penny per pound of tomatoes, which goes directly to the farmworkers in Florida’s Immokalee region.
The FFP was created through a worker-led organizing strategy pressuring the large corporations who purchase large amounts of produce grown in the Immokalee region. The widely acclaimed FFP was created by the exploited workers, not as a voluntary act of corporate social responsibility. The CIW also achieved success by organizing campaigns to change the purchasing choices of the largest purchasers in the market, instead of inviting individual consumers to purchase ethical products or lifestyle brands.
Mike Telian is a recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and currently volunteers at the Thomas Merton Center.