Top Ten Falsehoods, Fibs, and Fabrications in Chipotle’s Answer…

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Top Ten Falsehoods, Fibs, and Fabrications in Chipotle’s Answer to a Customer’s Email about the Campaign for Fair Food…

Follow the entire series here
#5
#4
#3
#2
#1

June 4, 2012

#1 is done: Chipotle countdown a wrap!

Chipotle changes its tune… but the public just keeps on singing the same song!

When we first launched the Top Ten List of Falsehoods, Fibs, and Fabrications in Chipotle’s Answer to a Customer’s Email about the Campaign for Fair Food, we had planned, after nine weeks of meticulously deconstructing Chipotle’s misleading missive, to end on a somewhat lighthearted note. But then Chipotle went and changed its response to questions about the Campaign for Fair Food, and the company’s new answer — though in many ways an implicit admission of the first email’s outrageous overreaching — requires its own rejoinder.

[For those of you who might be curious, the original idea for #1 on the countdown was a post about Chipotle's mistaken identification of Immokalee as a county in Florida (Immokalee is in fact an unincorporated community, one of the country's poorest towns), underscoring the irony that, in an email in which Chipotle asks its customers to believe that the burrito king understands farmworker reality better than the workers themselves do, the company can't even accurately locate Immokalee on a map...]

Chipotle’s new response to inquiries about the Campaign is a trimmer, decidedly more humble explanation of its refusal to sign a Fair Food Agreement. Gone are the company’s risible claims of having single-handedly reformed the Florida tomato industry (#’s 4 and 5 on the List), its declaration of longstanding support for the CIW (#6), its contention that the CIW is seeking to control its entire supply chain (#9). And, on balance, that’s good. At least someone has been reading the List these past two months.

But the new response introduces a twist that simply cannot go unchallenged. Here’s one iteration of it, from an interview of Chipotle spokesperson Chris Arnold by the Miami New Times:

“‘What’s important to understand about the nature of this issue,’ he starts, ‘is that when the CIW started their program in the mid-1990′s, they were originally targeting growers. Then they switched gears, targeting large-scale buyers like Chipotle, or McDonald’s, or Taco Bell… to get the buyers to put economic pressure on the growers so the growers would change their practices.

‘Now more than 90% of all the tomatoes grown in Florida are grown under CIW’s program; so in effect, they won. Anyone who wants to participate in their program can, and we’ve been doing that since 2009. We only work with growers who have signed on with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. We’re working directly with growers rather than through an agreement with CIW. The result is the same in terms of benefits to the workers…’” read more

The first paragraph reflects the more accurate, less absurdly Chipotle-centric, history of the Campaign for Fair Food and the reform of the Florida tomato industry. This appears, at first blush, to be a significant step in the right direction for Chipotle’s PR department after its disastrous effort to imply that Chipotle had somehow played a central role in bringing about the changes in Florida’s fields. However reluctantly, Chipotle seems to have finally realized that it was nothing more than an extra, not the lead actor it would have its customers believe, in the history of the farmworkers’ struggle for human rights in Florida, a history now in its third decade.

But then we get to the second paragraph.

It’s in that second paragraph that Chipotle takes it upon itself to define not only what constitutes victory in the Campaign for Fair Food, but also — and this is the real heart of the matter when it comes to Chipotle — what it means to “participate” in the Fair Food Program.

On the question of “victory”, Chipotle is, quite simply, wrong. Yes, 90% of the growers are participating, but that is only one part of the equation. In the Campaign for Fair Food, victory is a multi-factor proposition: Change = Workers + Consumers + Growers + Buyers doing their part to improve farm labor wages and working conditions. Workers, Consumers, and Growers are on board, as are many of the Buyers, but as long as Chipotle and the supermarket giants — companies like Publix, Kroger, Giant, Stop & Shop, and Safeway — refuse to sign Fair Food agreements, full and sustainable change will remain an elusive goal toward which we will not stop working.

Even if Chipotle declares victory for us.

On the question of what it means to “participate” in the Fair Food Program, here again Chipotle tries to talk its way out of truly doing its part. Participation is not simply paying the penny per pound and buying from participating growers. Participation is also making a binding commitment to do those things, and agreeing to allow for verification of the company’s performance of its commitment. Otherwise, what is to keep Chipotle from reversing its course once the public attention wanes, since it was public attention that got Chipotle to pay the penny in the first place?

It isn’t difficult to demonstrate that full and sustainable participation is only possible with a binding commitment and verification. Just ask yourself: What would happen if all the buyers were to follow Chipotle’s approach? The resulting patchwork of unenforceable promises would fall apart the minute it was tested, and we have not come this far to build a future of Fair Food on a foundation of empty assurances.

No matter how strong Chipotle’s faith in its own integrity may be.

The strategy behind Chipotle’s latest response seems obvious: Strip away the ridiculous claims (they’ve become a liability, anyway), and stick to the idea that the battle for farmworkers’ rights has been won, the Campaign for Fair Food is over, and whether the workers in Immokalee are capable of realizing it or not, it’s time now for conscientious consumers to move on. [Ed note: Have you noticed Chipotle's convenient habit of assuming that farmworkers aren't capable of accurately analyzing their own situation? Must be a confusion left over from all those years of working to improve farm animals' rights.]

Should be interesting to see how this new strategy works out for them. Couldn’t be much worse than the last one.

Next up: After two months of the Chipotle Countdown, what are Chipotle’s customers saying about the company’s refusal to sign a Fair Food agreement? We’ll hear from some of the nearly 65,000 people who sent emails to Chipotle through the sumofus.org e-action alert, including some pretty piquant points of view…

May 30, 2012

Chipotle List #2 ready for your inspection…

CIW members and allies protest outside a Baltimore Chipotle two weeks ago, while a young consumer looks on and considers food from a whole new perspective.

#2: “… we only purchase our tomatoes from growers who have signed on with the CIW.”

Fact: That may or may not be the case, but we’ll just have to take Chipotle’s word for it. We don’t have the right to audit their purchases because we don’t have a Fair Food Agreement with Chipotle.

Chipotle’s approach to the Fair Food Program can be summarized in two words: “Trust us.”

No partnership. No verification. No commitment. Just Chipotle promising that it will do the right thing.

If this sounds familiar, maybe that’s because it’s been tried before, though to that company’s credit, it didn’t take long before they came to realize that a true partnership with farmworkers is indispensable to any genuine effort to transform farm labor conditions.

Chipotle, on the other hand, hasn’t learned that lesson quite yet.

And so people who crave “farmworker justice with their burritos” — like the fine people of the Twin Cities pictured here on the right, who recently delivered a letter to the manager of a local Chipotle restaurant and wrote a fantastic blog post about it — continue to try to teach Chipotle the true meaning of the expression “food with integrity.”

Meanwhile Chipotle continues its one-man show of compliance with the Fair Food Code of Conduct. And no one’s clapping.

Chipotle’s produce broker (whom they share with McDonald’s) submits monthly reports to the Fair Food Standards Council (FFSC), as do Participating Buyers in the Fair Food Program. The FFSC’s accounting department then analyzes these reports, not only to check for compliance (for example, is the Buyer purchasing from a suspended or nonparticipating grower), but also to cross-check and reconcile these reports with Participating Growers’ reports in order to gain a full picture of the transactions under the Fair Food Program.

The principal difference between Chipotle and the ten Participating Buyers contractually committed to the Fair Food Program, however, is that the other ten buyers have agreed to verify their purchases. In other words, they’re not just saying, “Trust us.” Instead, they are held to a very real standard of transparency that encourages accuracy. By signing a Fair Food Agreement, they have entered into a binding commitment to pay a premium on all their Florida tomato purchases and to buy only from Participating Growers, a commitment that can be verified and enforced, a commitment Chipotle won’t make.

Chipotle, by its own design, has no direct contact with the FFSC, so you can forget about FFSC auditors showing up at the burrito giant’s Denver headquarters for an audit of its tomato purchases anytime soon. The exchange of information between the two parties, such as it is, is filtered through a broker that answers to Chipotle. As a result, the FFSC is left with reports which may or may not tell the whole story about Chipotle’s tomato supply chain. Even assuming the reports submitted by the broker accurately reflect its knowledge of Chipotle’s Florida tomato purchases, there would be nothing to keep Chipotle from simultaneously using additional undisclosed brokers to purchase some large or small percentage of its Florida tomatoes totally outside the purview of the Fair Food Program, thereby denying farmworkers the “penny per pound” on all those purchases.

And that’s exactly the point. Without a commitment to transparency, there can be no verification or legitimate claims of compliance.

And that will never satisfy people truly looking to consume “food with integrity,” especially since real integrity, when it comes to farm labor justice, is just an agreement away. We’ll give our friends in Minneapolis the final word in this update:

“… Similar to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, Chipotle has built a reputation for providing food with integrity. It’s amazing that they are willing to put that reputation on the line by resisting collaboration with CIW. Chipotle claims that they are instituting all of the conditions of the code of conduct; they just don’t want to sign the agreement with CIW. Yet without allowing for third-party verification, and given Chipotle’s history of questionable statements about its actions in support of farmworkers, Chipotle’s claims simply don’t have credence.” read more

May 21, 2012

Chipotle List #3 now served…

This time, Chipotle answers its own disinformation in a new email exchange with a former Chiptole “Farm Team” member!

#3: “We have the same goal as the CIW—improved wages and conditions for the workers—but there are multiple ways to get there. In this case, for the workers’ sake, it was more effective to use a more direct route.”

Fact: Actually, Chipotle hasn’t forged anything resembling a new path nor taken any more “direct route”, it has simply — by its own admission — plugged into the CIW’s Fair Food Program, only without any of the oversight or commitment.

An important ingredient in Chipotle’s marketing image as the “Food with Integrity” leader is a sense that Chipotle is the smart fast-food company, the thinking man or woman’s alternative to fast-food factories. The rebel, the iconoclast — if there is a path less taken, that’s where you’ll find Chipotle, or so the company’s carefully crafted image would have its customers believe.

And despite the contradiction of Chipotle’s long incubation under the wing of the very epitome of conveyor belt consumerism — McDonald’s (the company Steve Ells once called “the very rich uncle every restaurant wishes it had behind it”) — Chipotle has done a good job of promoting this sense of the company’s exceptionalism. Its award-winning, tear-jerking animated short starring Willie Nelson, “Back to the Start”, is just the latest chapter in Chipotle’s remarkable PR story of the little fast-food company fighting the system for you.

Now, in fairness, Chipotle has walked the walk when it comes to certain parts of its supply chain, like meat. There’s no taking that away from them. But when it comes to the part of their supply chain that matters to farmworkers in Florida, for years Chipotle took the exact same path as its rich uncle McDonald’s and every other member of the fast-food herd. And though today they do indeed diverge from their fast-food brethren in their Florida supply chain management, the difference is hardly to their credit, as they are doing less than the others to meet the highest ethical standards. Yet they somehow find a way to spin even their decision to do less in a positive way.

It is this double helix of disinformation that makes today’s installment, No. 3, on the list of Chipotle’s falsehoods, fibs, and fabrications so interesting. On the one hand, Chipotle’s claim that it has found a more “direct route” — a somehow more virtuous approach to a sustainable, fair tomato supply chain than its fast-food brethren, indeed than the farmworkers themselves — is false because, to the extent it is doing anything, Chipotle has simply piggy-backed on the existing Fair Food Program framework. And you don’t have to take our word for it. Here’s Chipotle’s own PR director Chris Arnold answering a concerned, long-time Chipotle customer about the company’s refusal to partner with the CIW (more on this exchange later):

“… Recall that CIW’s work began targeting growers in Florida, which is where the issues were. They switched gears and began targeting buyers so buyers could apply economic pressure on growers to make the growers change their practices. All of this is well reported in Barry Estabrook’s book, Tomatoland, or, to some extent, at the link below.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coalition_of_Immokalee_Workers

That effort has worked, and now more than 90% of tomatoes grown in Florida are grown under CIW’s program. This is an extraordinary accomplishment given how well entrenched practices are in the large scale ag sector, and how change averse the industry is. In short, CIW won. The industry has turned. Now, anyone who wants to can participate in their program, and we have chosen to do that working only with growers who have signed on to their program.

In terms of having a contract with them directly, we simply don’t believe that contracts are necessary to do the right thing…”

“Now, anyone who wants to can partcipate in their program, and we have chosen to do that”… That hardly squares with the quote that started this post, about “multiple ways to get there” and Chipotle finding a “more effective”, “more direct route.” Chipotle, by its own admission, has brought nothing new to the table but is rather participating in the CIW’s Fair Food Program (though even its half-hearted participation is less than stellar).

Which is where the double helix comes in. The fact is, Chipotle has diverged in one key way from its fast-food brethren: Chipotle has missed the exit for social responsibility and chosen to stay on the low road when McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King, and Taco Bell all decided to break from the past and partner with the CIW in the Fair Food Program. Chris Arnold alludes to this in the final paragraph of the quote above where he says, “In terms of having a contract with them directly, we simply don’t believe that contracts are necessary to do the right thing.”

And that is the only real difference between Chipotle and the other fast-food companies at this point. Chipotle hasn’t come up with any better, more effective path. Chipotle has effectively plugged into the CIW’s Fair Food Program, with one glaring exception: Chipotle has refused to make a real commitment to that Program, and, as a result, has refused to provide the kind of access to its supply chain information that the other fast-food companies have provided to allow for oversight of their participation in the Program.

Yet Chipotle, in a remarkably bold move, has attempted to shoehorn this ethical failure into its larger narrative of ethical superiority, turning its refusal to partner with farmworkers into a somehow more virtuous approach to sustainability. The good news is, it doesn’t seem to be working, especially among those people who pay closest attention to Chipotle’s claims of “Food with Integrity”, which brings us back to the exchange mentioned earlier.

Here’s one customers’ response to Chris Arnold’s answer excerpted above. And it’s not just any customer. The response comes from a key member of Chipotle’s “Farm Team”, a group of regular customers personally recruited by restaurant managers to help communicate Chipotle’s message of “Food with Integrity” to other potential customers to help grow Chipotle’s business. Here’s his message:

“As a loyal Chipotle consumer and avid supporter of Chipotle’s business practices, I am saddened to find myself forced to boycott your product until Chipotle reaches a positive resolution to the CIW’s concerns.

I have spoken this morning with Communications Director Mr. Chris Arnold, and left a message in the purchasing department. I sincerely appreciate Mr. Arnold taking the time to speak with me and explain Chipotle’s position regarding the Fair Foods Agreement. In a letter this morning Mr. Arnold assures me that Chipotle is meeting the industry standard for Fair Pay and transparency in Florida, but does not see the necessity in signing the agreement. According to Mr. Arnold, it is possible to “do the right thing” without the necessity of a contract. While I agree with Chipotle’s position, it unfortunately puts the organization on the opposite side of industry standards. If organizations such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Trader Joe’s are willing to allow a third party to monitor and certify the process, certainly Chipotle would be willing?

As an early adopter of Chipotle, I have always been heartened by your business practices and shared my positive impression of your organization. As a founding member of the Farm Team last year, I helped spread the message of Food With Integrity to my friends, family, and colleagues. I was shocked, embarrassed, and ashamed at a recent family gathering to find my assertions about the Integrity of your organization called into question over the current situation with the CIW. I have come to expect Chipotle to be on the forefront of ethical business practices.

This morning I took the time to speak with both representatives at Chipotle and with the CIW. I am disappointed by what I learned. If indeed, Chipotle meets and exceeds the industry standards, and is willing to allow full transparency, what is the logic of refusing to sign a commitment to those practices? I am assured that the process of signing the Fair Foods Agreement is swift, and can be accomplished in a matter of hours. What’s more, the CIW has committed to communicating the agreement through its many channels once signed. All that is necessary is a single phone call.

I understand, that I am only a single consumer and that my refraining from purchasing your product may not impact the business. I urge you to make a decision based on what is Right and Best, not on the potential loss of income.

I look forward to hearing from your office soon. Perhaps, with swift action, my daughter and I can have a Chipotle Burrito for dinner this evening.”

That’s one thinking man who is thinking for himself. Here’s to hoping that he and his daughter do get to eat that burrito together sooner, rather than later.

May 15, 2012

The mouse that squeaked: The Chipotle series continues…

Plus, take action with sumofus.org to call on Chipotle to stop stalling and join the Fair Food Program!

#5: “… we were instrumental in getting the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE) to make sure that this money actually went to the workers.”

#4: “This deal in turn will allow other companies to participate in helping the workers where they were stonewalled before.”

Fact: Nope, sorry, Chipotle doesn’t get to claim credit for the most important farmworker victory in a generation, the culmination of 15 years of struggle. Chipotle’s bizarre megalomania stops here.

If the Outrageous Credit Grab were an Olympic sport, Chipotle would be a three-time gold medalist.

Chipotle’s first gold came in 2009, when the company issued a press release claiming sole credit for East Coast Growers’ decision to become the first major tomato grower to agree to implement the Fair Food Program. The absurdity of that claim is well chronicled, some examples of which you can find here, here, and here.

Not one to rest on its laurels, the company has just doubled down on its delusions of farm labor leadership, inflating its original claim to now take credit for the CIW’s historic 2010 agreement with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange and the implementation of the Fair Food Program that followed.

Get that cheeky fast-food start-up two more ribbons and some shiny medals!

On a slightly more serious note, while it’s difficult to justify dedicating even a single square inch of real estate on this website to debunking these two brazen claims — the site itself, as an exhaustive archive of every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears that has gone into the CIW’s 15-year struggle to break the growers’ legendary resistance to change, is more than sufficient proof to the contrary — we will share with you some numbers to consider from 2010, the year when the FTGE abandoned its resistance and agreed to participate in the Fair Food Program:

The 10 biggest fast food chains in the United States in 2010 (source):

1. * Subway – 23,336 U.S. Locations
2. * McDonald’s – 14,000 U.S. Locations
3. Starbucks – 11,000 U.S. Locations
4. Pizza Hut – 7,566 U.S. Locations
5. * Burger King – 7,233 U.S. Locations
6. Dunkin’ Donuts – 6,500 U.S. Locations
7. Wendy’s – 5,877 U.S. Locations.
8. * Taco Bell – 5,604 U.S. Locations
9. Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) – 5,162 U.S. Locations
10. Domino’s Pizza – 4,927 U.S. Locations

* Companies committed to purchase from growers willing to participate in the Fair Food Program

Chipotle stores at end of 2010 (source):

1,084

So, at the time when Chipotle was supposedly working its magic “getting the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange to make sure that [the Fair Food Program] money actually went to the workers,” the burrito king represented approximately 1/50th of the total buying power of just the participating fast-food companies. The measure of Chipotle’s relative ability to influence the FTGE’s decision only gets smaller when you throw in the foodservice companies that had also signed on to the Program by 2010 (Compass Group, Aramark, and Sodexo) and Whole Foods. Thus, far from being a significant player in the market power that lured the FTGE out of the bunker and to the negotiating table, Chipotle was in fact the smallest of all the retail food companies participating in the Fair Food Program at the time, by orders of magnitude.

It was, in fact, the mouse that squeaked.

And so it’s hard to believe that anyone outside of the company’s downtown Denver offices truly thinks Chipotle was “instrumental” in moving the FTGE. In fact, you might be hard pressed to find many souls inside Chipotle headquarters who do. But one thing is now clear: Chipotle’s disregard for the truth and seemingly unrivaled capacity for self-promotion have touched a nerve, and people are calling the company to account in growing numbers.

Sumofus.org — the same people who helped give tens of thousands of consumers a voice in the Trader Joe’s campaign — has put together an online petition calling on Chipotle to stop stalling and sign a Fair Food Agreement, and in just two days it already has over 50,000 60,000 signatures! Here’s the text of the sumofus.org announcement:

“If you believe its marketing hype, you’d think Chipotle does everything it can to source its ingredients ethically. But you just have to unwrap the burrito a little bit to realize the way Chipotle purchases the tomatoes for its salsa undercuts the advances in working conditions Florida farmworkers have fought to win.

Chipotle is refusing to sign the Fair Food Agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group of farmworkers who’ve successfully convinced major corporations like Burger King and Subway to participate in a program that helps ensure that tomato pickers are treated well and paid fairly for their work.
Send a message to Chipotle’s CEO Steve Ells, calling for him to commit to real “food with integrity” by signing the Fair Food Agreement.

And it actually gets worse. Chipotle is misleading its customers by trumpeting the work of the CIW on its website. In reality, Chipotle broke off talks with the CIW, opting instead to go it alone — no partnership, no verification, no commitment for the long term. By refusing to partner with the CIW, Chipotle is undercutting the life-changing work the CIW has done to protect farmworkers from the often-brutal conditions workers face at farms not participating in the Fair Food Program.

Since organizing in the mid-90s, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has successfully pressured large corporations like Aramak, Compass Group, and Whole Foods to sign its Fair Food Agreement, guaranteeing a fair wage and worker protections to the men and women who pick tomatoes across Florida. And just this past February, SumOfUs.org members helped convince Trader Joe’s to sign the Fair Food Agreement!

This weekend, CIW is ramping up the pressure on Chipotle by sponsoring a weekend of action where people all over the US will be pressuring Chipotle to sign the Fair Food Agreement. Let’s use our power as consumers — the people that, frankly, CEOs care most about — and demand that Chipotle sign on to the Fair Food Agreement.

Join the movement for fair food by sending a message to Chipotle’s CEO, urging him to sign the Fair Food Agreement now.”

Chipotle’s falsehoods, fibs, and fabrications are beginning to take their toll on the company’s teflon reputation, and the longer they pursue this “go it alone” policy, the more dinged and dented their reputation will get. Let Chipotle know that their refusal to partner with the CIW has gone on long enough, sign the sumofus.org petition today!

May 6, 2012

#6 on the Chipotle list is ready for your review!

Our series continues… Plus, a special bonus: A long-overdue Chipotle media round up!

#6: “You may be interested to hear that Chipotle has supported the CIW.”

Fact: Unless by “interested” Chipotle means “shocked,” we, as the hypothetical supportee, would beg to differ.

This one is almost too easy, but the List must go on…

The online dictionary defines “support” as:

“a. To aid the cause, policy, or interests of;

b. To argue in favor of; advocate;…

… to give approval to (a cause, principle, etc.), to subscribe to;”

And here’s how Chipotle CEO Steve Ells expressed his “support” for the CIW, during a November, 2009, presentation at the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School of Business:

“Of course I’m not in favor of slavery! But signing an agreement [with the CIW] does not actually change those conditions for farmworkers. I mean, they just don’t see the bigger picture,” he continued. “To change the fast-food paradigm is huge. We’re trying to do the right thing.” read more

So, you can judge for yourself whether Mr. Ells’ words can be construed as supportive, but as the purported recipients of Chipotle’s “aid” and “approval”, we think we have something of a say in this, and our verdict is unequivocal: No, Chipotle does not in fact support the CIW.

On the contrary, Chipotle’s “we know better” approach is both absurd on its face (we are not talking about the protection of animal rights here, but of human rights, and there’s simply no way that Steve Ells or anyone else at Chipotle can know better than Florida farmworkers themselves how to protect and advance farmworkers’ rights) and threatens to undermine the extraordinary progress made to this point through the Campaign for Fair Food.

The Fair Food Program is founded upon the bedrock of the CIW’s binding agreements with the retail food companies. Without those agreements, the Fair Food Program would have no teeth when workers’ rights are violated and enforcement is called for. If other companies were to follow Chipotle’s lead, the capacity of the Fair Food Program to enforce its promising new standards would be severely compromised.

Chipotle’s half measures on human rights are not just ineffective, they are affirmatively harmful by undermining the work of those retailers, growers, workers and consumers who are invested in a genuine program to expand human rights in agriculture. And that’s why Chipotle’s unilateral claim to “support the CIW” is No. 6 on the Top Ten List of Falsehoods, Fibs, and Fabrications in Chipotle’s Answer to a Customer’s Email about the Campaign for Fair Food.

Chipotle media round up… There have been a number of stories on Chipotle accumulating in the media while we have been paying attention to action on the Publix and Ahold fronts, and it’s high time we collected a few of them for you. So here below for your edification is the Chipotle media round up:

April 30, 2012

Top Ten Falsehoods, Fibs, and Fabrications in Chipotle’s Answer to a Customer’s Email about the Campaign for Fair Food

Our series continues…

#7: “We also allow third-party audits as well as open our supply chain to scrutiny.”

Fact: No, the Fair Food Program does third-party audits, and Chipotle refuses to commit to abide by them.

This particular gem contains two little twists on the truth, both of which can be revealed with a question.

The first, which is merely irksome, concerns the meaning of the word “allow”. If, as you are reading this post, the sun has come up and is shining, do you think it would be accurate to say that you “allowed” that to happen? Can you “allow” things that occur entirely outside of your control and do not — in any way, shape, or form — require your consent?

The Fair Food Program audits over 90% of all Florida tomato farms. It is possible (though by no means certain, which is a topic for another post) that Chipotle buys its tomatoes from farms among that 90%, and therefore it is possible that the farms where Chipotle buys its tomatoes are audited by the Fair Food Program. But that configuration of facts can hardly be described as Chipotle “allowing third-party audits” or “opening” its supply chain to scrutiny. Words have meanings, and those words give the strong impression that Chipotle has made some kind of decision that has resulted in the audits taking place. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The second twist is far more significant, and the question that reveals its particular deceit is this: What good does it do to “allow third-party audits” if you won’t agree to abide by the findings of those audits?

Readers of this site will remember a recent article about the Fair Food Standards Council (FFSC), the third-party organization formed this season to monitor and enforce the new human rights standards established under the CIW’s Fair Food Code of Conduct. If you haven’t read it yet, it is worth taking a few moments to check out the story in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

The FFSC is the embodiment of the Fair Food Program’s commitment to real, measurable advances in farm labor wages and working conditions. As we wrote when the Herald Tribune article came out:

“That commitment — combining regular field and farm office audits with a rigorous complaint investigation and resolution process, and backed by the CIW’s on-the-farm, on-the-clock education around the code’s new labor standards for tens of thousands of tomato harvesters across the state — sets the Fair Food Program apart in the world of social responsibility, where corporate codes of conduct have proliferated but are rarely monitored and even more rarely enforced.”

But there is another commitment that sets the Fair Food Program apart from so many other self-styled social responsibility efforts, and that’s the commitment made by the retail food corporations that have signed onto the Fair Food Program to abide by the findings of the FFSC, purchasing their Florida tomatoes only from growers found to be in compliance with the Fair Food Code of Conduct and cutting off purchases from those growers that are found to be in violation of the Code and refuse to correct those violations.

Without that commitment, the Fair Food Program would have no teeth. It would be just another set of hopeful standards on paper, without market consequences to make them real.

And that commitment is the critical distinction between Chipotle and the ten retail food giants that have signed a Fair Food agreement, the distinction that Chipotle’s deceptive claim to “allow third-party audits” blurs, but can’t erase.

Here it is, plain and simple: When a grower is found to be out of compliance, and is no longer a Participating Grower, retailers that have signed a Fair Food agreement are required to shift their purchases away from the non-compliant grower to the growers in good standing. Chipotle, on the other hand, is not required to do anything at all. Because Chipotle refuses to commit to the Fair Food Program, Chipotle is under no obligation to cut off purchases from the offending grower.

So, yes, it might be true that Chipotle’s tomato suppliers are being audited today by the Fair Food Standards Council, although Chipotle’s refusal to allow an audit of its purchasing records certainly doesn’t engender much confidence even in that claim.

But it is definitely true that Chipotle is under no obligation whatsoever to suspend purchases from growers found to be in violation of the Fair Food Code of Conduct.

So we ask again: What good does it do to “allow third-party audits” if you won’t agree to abide by the findings of those audits?

April 18, 2012

Top Ten Falsehoods, Fibs, and Fabrications in Chipotle’s Answer to a Customer’s Email about the Campaign for Fair Food

Our series continues… this time with a guest contributor!

#8: “We feel we do not need to sign a contract to do the right thing. We do the right thing because that is the kind of company we are…”

Fact: When it comes to human rights, the process of determining the “right thing” to do must include the humans whose rights are in question.

Today is reader participation day at the Top Ten List of Falsehoods, Fibs, and Fabrications in Chipotle’s Answer to a Customer’s Email about the Campaign for Fair Food headquarters, and so, for Entry #8, we are turning to Mr. Robert McGoey of Denver Fair Food! Take it away, Robert:

“Perhaps Chipotle could make this sort of argument regarding its record on environmental issues, but that’s not the case for workers’ rights, where its track record is nowhere near the same.

For the record, human rights abuses have been occurring in their tomato supply chain since they began as a company, and at no point did they feel that they needed to sign a contract to do anything about it.

Further, on a practical level, workers themselves need to be involved in the doing of the “right thing” simply because they are the ones on the ground who can tell you when the right thing is not being done, and who have to be the ones to define what the “right thing” is. Only barely under the surface of this statement is an ugly condescension, a mentality that says, “We don’t need to include you when we go about making your life better. We know what’s best for you.”

I also want to quote Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser regarding Chipotle’s refusal to work with the CIW: ‘Claiming you support farm-worker rights but refusing to work with CIW is like someone in the ’60s saying they support civil rights but they won’t work with Martin Luther King, Jr. or the NAACP’.”

Thanks, Robert. We are including here below a passage from this weekend’s report from the 2012 Northeast Tour NYC Chipotle protests, words that echo your reflection on the fundamental hole at the heart of Chipotle’s logic:

Despite the chilly reception, the marchers pressed on with their message that nothing can be done for workers that is done without workers, because no matter how ethical and pure of intention Chipotle believes itself to be, sooner or later, company executives have got to to wrap their minds around this simple truth: Farmworkers in Immokalee are building a new world — in partnership with growers and willing retail food corporations — in the fields of Florida, where farmworkers’ rights are respected and workers have a real voice in the industry. The very foundation of that new world is the recognition of farmworkers as a vital, and equal, part of the industry as a whole, every bit as essential as Joel Salatin and Steve Ells themselves to Chipotle’s success.

Because without farmworkers, there is no food, with or without integrity.

Oh, and, one more thing…

It seems that consistency is not a value that Chipotle holds dear. While the company clearly expects the world to trust it to do the right thing voluntarily, CEO Steve Ells doesn’t seem to think others in the industry should be allowed to benefit from that same approach. As it turns out, Chipotle is quite vociferous in its insistence that voluntary compliance with the FDA’s guidelines on antibiotics use in animals is not sufficient due to producers’ entrenched practices and interests. From a press release on the company’s website:

Chipotle Mexican Grill Responds to FDA’s Voluntary Plan to Reduce Antibiotic Use in Farm Animals

“There are gaps in the program, particularly that it continues to allow antibiotic use for prevention of disease.”

DENVER, Apr 16, 2012 (BUSINESS WIRE) — Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG) applauds the Food and Drug Administration’s attention to the overuse of antibiotics in livestock farming, but urges the agency and the industrial animal agriculture sector to do more. While Chipotle sees FDA’s voluntary plan as a good first step, the company believes more intervention is needed to stop the abuse of antibiotics in farming…

… “We started serving meat from animals raised in a humane way and without the use of antibiotics because we believe animals should be raised in ways that emphasize good care rather than chemicals,” Ells said. “These voluntary guidelines seem unlikely to cause producers to change the practices that necessitate dependence on drugs in the first place. It’s an important first step, but stronger action will be needed to bring about meaningful change in an industry where their practices are so well entrenched.read more

Mr. Ells adds, about the producers, “While FDA has a good track record using guidance to drive change, we hope they will monitor progress closely as producers could have stopped using antibiotics on their own at any time, but few have chosen to do so.”

Hmmm… that’s pretty solid logic. To paraphrase Mr. Ells, we can’t depend on voluntary compliance with higher standards because food industry companies could have met those higher standards at any time in the past, but few have chosen to do so.

And that is exactly why, in the Fair Food Program, we insist on having binding contracts with our partners, because you just can’t count on companies to do the right thing on their own when they haven’t in the past!

April 12, 2012

Top Ten Falsehoods, Fibs, and Fabrications in Chipotle’s Answer to a Customer’s Email about the Campaign for Fair Food

Our series continues…

#9: “However, the CIW wants us to sign a contract that would let the CIW control Chipotle’s decisions regarding food in the future.”

Fact: No, we don’t.

Our only concern is the human rights of the workers who pick Chipotle’s Florida tomatoes. To ensure that Chipotle uses its purchasing power to advance and protect those rights, we want Chipotle to sign a Fair Food Agreement. Here are a few of the many reasons why signing a Fair Food Agreement cannot be described as letting “the CIW control Chipotle’s decisions regarding food in the future”:

  • Fair Food Agreements don’t deal with all food purchases, they deal only with tomatoes;
  • Fair Food Agreements don’t even deal with all tomato purchases, they only deal with Florida tomatoes;
  • The only requirement about purchasing contained in the Fair Food Agreements is that companies that sign must purchase their Florida tomatoes only from growers who are participating in the Fair Food Program, which today is over 90% of all Florida tomato growers. This allows for a pretty broad selection of growers among whom to choose. (Of course, this requirement means that, if a participating grower is found in violation of the Fair Food Code of Conduct and refuses to correct the violation or violations, that grower is suspended from the Program and participating buyers would have to stop purchasing his or her tomatoes. That is what gives the Fair Food Program teeth, keeping it from being just another code of conduct that companies are free to ignore at their convenience, and that may be what is giving Chipotle pause.)
  • But if, in the unlikely event there are no Florida tomato growers able or willing to meet the Fair Food standards, participating buyers are permitted to purchase tomatoes from any and all growers until there are.

So, in summary, the agreements only cover Florida tomatoes, not “food”. And as long as there are any Florida tomato growers complying with the Fair Food Code of Conduct (which you can find here), Chipotle is free to choose among them. And if there aren’t any growers complying with the Fair Food Code of Conduct, Chipotle is free to choose among all Florida tomato growers. The only real restriction on Chipotle’s choice of Florida tomato growers is if one of its current suppliers — all of whom, according to Chipotle, are participating growers — were to violate the Fair Food standards and refuse to correct the violations. In that case, the Fair Food Agreement would require that Chipotle shift its purchases away from that supplier. And that is the point of the Program: Market benefits for those growers who meet higher standards and market consequences for those who don’t.

One final thought: Just in case you’re thinking that the Fair Food standards might be unrealistic or overly ambitious, it is helpful to remember that ten other food industry leaders — among them, four of Chipotle’s colleagues in the fast food industry — find it perfectly reasonable, and feasible, to purchase only from farms participating in the Fair Food Program. Yet it’s Chipotle — the ethical food leader, the company that invented the marketing slogan “Food with Integrity” — that is shrinking from that same commitment.

April 11, 2012

Top Ten Falsehoods, Fibs, and Fabrications in Chipotle’s Answer to a Customer’s Email about the Campaign for Fair Food…

They forgot to mention shameless, truth-bending, and maddeningly self-aggrandizing…

Latest Chipotle take on company’s role in Fair Food Movement so delusional its deconstruction requires a serial post to do it justice…

Over the years, we have seen more than our share of bizarre, self-serving, and outrageously false defenses put out there by our friends in the corporate food world in response to the Campaign for Fair Food, but the latest product from the Chipotle public relations department truly takes the cake.

It seems that the stories they told the world back in 2009 — when Chipotle claimed credit for East Coast Tomato Packers’ decision to become the first major tomato grower to participate in the Fair Food Program — have now been spun so long and so hard that they have become the stuff of legend. And as with all good tall tales, their heroic exploits ask us to suspend our disbelief. Today, Paul Bunyan-like, Chipotle CEO Steve Ells stands 50 feet tall, and he and his giant blue ox have single-handedly overcome the resistance of the Florida tomato growers and ended farm labor exploitation once and for all.

OK, so maybe Ells (above, right) isn’t 50 feet tall, and there is no blue ox, but none of that has kept Chipotle from telling its story of social responsibility, vision, and valor. A story made all the more amazing by the fact that Chipotle is smaller, by far, than all those food companies that have actually signed Fair Food Agreements, with revenues about 1/10th those of McDonald’s, 1/8th those of Subway, 1/4th those of Trader Joe’s. Indeed, the only thing epic about the past two years has been Chipotle’s failure to deliver on its claim to be able to do better for farmworkers in its supply chain than the CIW’s Fair Food Program can.

But enough about reality. Let’s get back to Chipotle’s PR world. The company’s latest communication, sent to us by a consumer who wrote to Chipotle to inquire as to why the company has refused to sign a Fair Food Agreement, is so full of misinformation that we can’t debunk it in just one post. Instead, over the next couple of weeks, interspersed with coverage of the 2012 Northeast Tour, we are going to bring you, countdown style, the “Top Ten List of Falsehoods, Fibs, and Fabrications in Chipotle’s Answer to a Customer’s Email about the Campaign for Fair Food”.

Today, we begin with Chipotle’s response in its entirety, followed by #10 in the Top Ten list. We hope you enjoy the ride:

“Anne,

Thanks for writing to us. I’m sorry for some of the confusion surrounding the CIW Fair Food Agreement. Food With Integrity is at the heart of who we are. We apply this philosophy to everything we do and to all aspects of our business. We’ve built our business on doing what we believe is right. We have a decade-long track record of working to improve the nation’s food supply by choosing like-minded suppliers who share our belief in raising animals and growing vegetables in ways that demonstrate respect for people, animals and the environment. When we can’t find such arrangements, we use our purchasing power to influence change among those who are willing to work with us.

You may be interested to hear that Chipotle has supported the CIW. We definitely do not support abuse of tomato pickers and we only purchase our tomatoes from growers who have signed on with the CIW. We support their goal of making life better for the workers in Immokalee county Florida. We agreed to their request to pay a penny a pound to the tomato pickers, and we were instrumental in getting the Florida Tomato Grower’s Exchange (FTGE) to make sure that this money actually went to the workers. Before Chipotle got involved, the CIW had not been able to get this money to the workers, because the FTGE would not allow it. In fact, in 2009, we successfully negotiated a pact with East Coast Farms, one of Florida’s largest and most reputable tomato growers, in order to pay a penny a pound more for the tomatoes we buy. This additional money has been paid directly to the workers who pick our tomatoes. Here are some links on the subject, including one from NPR, from when this first happened:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112804917&ft=1&f=1006

http://www.gourmet.com/foodpolitics/2009/09/chipotle-tomatoes-labor-friendly-companies

This progress with East Coast Farms came after months of working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Their campaign to improve wages and working conditions for farm workers who pick tomatoes in Florida prompted an organized effort by the Florida tomato industry to block fulfillment of similar agreements between the CIW and other large tomato buyers. By working directly with the grower instead, we found an alternative that allows us to have an immediate and positive impact on the lives of people who pick tomatoes for us.

This deal in turn will allow other companies to participate in helping the workers where they were stonewalled before. We have the same goal as the CIW—improved wages and conditions for the workers—but there are multiple ways to get there. In this case, for the worker’s sake, it was more effective to use a more direct route.

As I mentioned, we are paying the extra penny per pound as we promised. We also allow third-party audits as well as open our supply chain to scrutiny. We are also purchasing our tomatoes from growers who have signed on with the CIW. However, the CIW wants us to sign a contract that would let the CIW control Chipotle’s decisions regarding food in the future. We feel we do not need to sign a contract to do the right thing. We do the right thing because that is the kind of company we are and we want to retain the freedom to make those types of decisions based on the workers’ rights, while still having the ability to take in consideration what we feel is best for the land, the animals and the farmers.

We will continue in our quest to provide Food With Integrity, always looking for suppliers who share our belief in producing food in ways that demonstrates respect for workers, animals, and the environment. We will also continue to use our purchasing power to push for change when we cannot find suitable alternatives. While we know we are not perfect we hope that this will help for now as we continue to provide Food With Integrity and do the right thing in the future.”

And now, drum roll please… Number 10 in the the Top Ten List of Falsehoods, Fibs, and Fabrications in Chipotle’s Answer to a Customer’s Email about the Campaign for Fair Food:

#10. “We agreed to their request to pay a penny a pound to the tomato pickers.. As I mentioned, we are paying the extra penny per pound as we promised.”

Fact: We start you off with something of a two-fer. First, Chipotle didn’t agree to do anything, they just started doing something on their own that they thought was the same as the companies in the Fair Food Program were doing. But, worse yet, because they tried to go it alone, they were paying the wrong amount (and, conveniently, much less than the other companies in the Program). Yes, while telling the public they were paying the same Fair Food Premium as the companies that had signed Fair Food Agreements, Chipotle was in fact paying less. Oops!