Alliance for Fair Food Launched

RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights, Amanda Shanor, 203-247-2195
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Rev. Noelle Damico, 631-371-1629
Interfaith Action, Brigitte Gynther, 239-986-0688
Student Farmworker Alliance, Sean Sellers, 239-821-5481
NESRI, Cathy Albisa, 212-253-1710

Alliance for Fair Food Launched
First Objective:  Reform McDonald’s Tomato Supply Chain

Immokalee, FL — Human rights, religious, student, labor, and grassroots organizations that work in partnership with the (CIW) announced today the creation of a new network dedicated to advancing the human rights of farmworkers who toil at the bottom of the country’s vast agri-food industry. 

The Alliance for Fair Food (AFF) will work to promote socially responsible purchasing practices among the major retail food corporations, with a particular focus on practical measures for improving farm labor wages and for guaranteeing farmworkers a meaningful role in the protection of their own labor rights.

Founded by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI), Student Farmworker Alliance and Interfaith Action, the AFF has been endorsed by nationally and internationally respected organizations and individuals, including: Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), Amnesty International USA, United Students Against Sweatshops, the AFL-CIO, author Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), NAACP Board Chairman Julian Bond, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Bonnie Raitt, SEIU, and Rev. Dr. Robert Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.

Launched on the first anniversary of the historic March 2005 agreement between Yum! Brands Inc. and the , the AFF will endeavor to extend the critical precedents achieved in that ground-breaking agreement throughout the fast food and agricultural industries.  Three of these key precedents are economic responsibility for ending farmworker poverty, supply chain transparency, and the participation of farmworkers in the protection of their own rights. The agreement brought a successful end to the four year, CIW-led, consumer boycott of Taco Bell.

“The significance of this agreement is in the promise it holds for transforming the entire fast-food industry and the responsibility it confers on each one of us as consumers to walk with CIW into this future. Together we must ensure that this momentous first step charts a sure and clear path for other major buyers to follow” said the Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

In collaboration with fast-food giant McDonald’s, the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, a grower lobby group, has formed Socially Accountable Farm Employers (SAFE).  SAFE combines a minimalist Code of Conduct with a suspect monitoring and certification process that will mislead consumers into believing that human rights abuses in the fields have been addressed.

“We decided to launch the AFF at this moment, because McDonald’s is resisting these critical precedents established in the Taco Bell agreement and instead is promoting a plan for ‘social responsibility on the cheap’ that will bring no significant change to the lives of the workers whose voices were thoroughly excluded from its development and implementation,” explained Todd Howland, Director of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights.       
“The Alliance for Fair Food will demand real social responsibility and real rights for farmworkers throughout the retail food industry through the sustained, creative, non-violent action of consumers.  Through the Taco Bell boycott we took the first step toward eliminating the market conditions that have deprived and dehumanized farmworkers for decades,” said Melody Gonzalez of the Student Farmworker Alliance.

Farmworkers picking tomatoes for McDonald’s Florida suppliers earn 40-45 cents for every 32 pound bucket, a rate that has remained stagnant for almost 30 years.  Workers receive no overtime, health insurance, sick leave or other benefits.  The CIW has worked with the US Department of Justice and FBI to investigate and prosecute five cases of modern-day slavery in recent years, freeing over 1,000 workers held against their will.

“The abuse of farmworkers’ fundamental human rights is a shameful part of this country’s history, and it remains an inexcusable reality hidden behind the $100 billion fast-food industry today.  But a new day is dawning.  Consumer awareness of that abuse has grown exponentially in the past several years, and public relations magic alone can no longer cover up the urgent need for real change,” said Lucas Benitez, a leader of the CIW and 2003 RFK Laureate for Human Rights. “Only when farmworkers, growers, food retailers, and consumers come together in a genuine partnership built on respect can the human rights crisis in the fields today be effectively addressed and resolved.  The CIW’s partnership with the Alliance for Fair Food is a crucial step in that direction.”