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Really?… Then why not stand behind your ingredients and accept the Chipotle Challenge?

Chipotle CEO Ells continues to duck Chipotle Challenge

While supermarket industry leaders like Publix, Ahold, and Kroger continue to bear the brunt of public pressure from the growing Campaign for Fair Food, sustainable food darling Chipotle and its celebrity CEO Steve Ells continue to duck the Campaign for Fair Food’s challenge to a public debate.

A quick refresh: Way back in December of last year, Food and Society Fellow Sean Sellers issued a direct, public challenge to Ells by means of an article (“Chipotle Challenge: time to back up ‘food with integrity’,” 12/11/09) in the sustainable food blog grist.org. He concluded the article thusly:

“… Which brings us back to Steve Ells’ quotation at the top of this story: “But signing an agreement [with the CIW] does not actually change those conditions for farmworkers.” Like most everything else Ells has said about the CIW and the Campaign for Fair Food, this is entirely backwards, and so painfully wrong. But this time, his misinformation will not go unchallenged.

Mr. Ells, consider this my formal challenge to a public debate on the merits of the Campaign for Fair Food. Have the conviction of your beliefs and join me for a debate – you name the time and place, anytime, anywhere. The clock is ticking.” read more

So, as the clock has ticked, oh, roughly 11,664,000 times since Mr. Sellers issued his challenge… what has Steve Ells done to back up his contention that somehow he, a Denver restaurateur, knows better how to address decades of documented human rights violations in Florida’s fields than the CIW, an internationally recognized leader in the areas of human rights, farm labor slavery, and corporate accountability?

Answer: Nothing. Nothing whatsoever.

Instead, he has sat back and watched as Publix has taken the heat for buying from the two growers associated with the latest slavery prosecution, the very same growers Chipotle bought from as well, until the CIW informed them that some of their workers were being held against their will by a brutal family of farm bosses — a fact that somehow missed the keen gaze of Mr. Ells and his crew there in Denver.

And so, the clock continues to tick, and Mr. Ells and his company continue to claim that they don’t need a “third-party” to tell them how to do social responsibility right (the question of how the workers who actually make it possible for Chipotle’s honest ingredients to make it out of the fields to Chipotle’s restaurants became a “third party” may be a topic for a later debate…).

You’d think that such a smart company wouldn’t have a problem defending its position in public. At this point, however, one has to conclude that Mr. Ells simply isn’t willing to expose his arguments on the Campaign for Fair Food to the crucible of public debate.

It’s a shame, it would be a riveting, and valuable, debate for Fair Food activists, and for the sustainable food movement as a whole.

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UPDATE: Since this page was originally posted, Pacific Tomato Growers has agreed to participate in CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food and has adopted a comprehensive Code of Conduct that affords significant verifiable worker protections. This Code reconfirms Pacific Tomato Grower’s long-standing commitment to a zero tolerance for forced labor. While Pacific Tomato Growers was never the target or subject of the Federal prosecution’s Navarrette investigation, Pacific Tomato Growers agrees that all growers must do more to prevent the use of forced labor on their farms.