Six score Ohioans for Fair Food — and over 156,000 signatures gathered by CIW ally Walk Free — seen, but not heard, at opening of “flagship” Wendy’s restaurant in Dublin!

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Transparency only in architectural plans for Wendy’s executives at VIP opening ceremony…

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Transparency is, in most instances, a good thing.  

The Fair Food Program is all about transparency.  Transparency in the supply chains of the food industry giants that sign Fair Food Agreements, so that human rights violations can be identified and eliminated through targeted purchasing policies.  Transparency for the workers on Fair Food Program farms, with unparalleled resources dedicated to educating workers as to their rights and responsibilities under the Fair Food Code of Conduct, so that they can play their indispensable role as 30,000 round-the-clock monitors that makes real enforcement of the Code possible.  And transparency in the work of the Fair Food Standards Council itself, which just published an extensive report of the results — successes and continuing challenges alike — of its first two seasons monitoring the Program.  You can find that report here.

But, Wendy’s executives gathered in Dublin, Ohio, for the grand opening of the new Wendy’s “flagship” store (pictured below) might have been wishing for a bit less transparency in the “modern” design of the shiny new architectural model unveiled this past Monday across the street from corporate headquarters.

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Because when the Wendy’s execs turned away from the new “digital menu board, Wi-Fi bar, fireplace and flat-screen TVs” inside the store, this is what they saw outside the floor-to-ceiling windows:

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Wendy’s executives have thus far turned their backs on the transparency and respect for human rights enshrined in the Fair Food Program, but they couldn’t turn their backs on the more than 120 intrepid members of the Ohio Fair Food Nation and farmworkers from Immokalee gathered outside their gala opening on Monday.  

Some of those in attendance at the bitterly cold, but remarkably spirited, rally sent us a report, and we share that first-hand dispatch from the front lines with you here today:

Wendys_Flagship_Panorama2Some time ago, as construction was finishing up on Wendy’s flagship store, it became clear that this new restaurant would become the hallmark of Wendy’s brand overhaul and modernization campaign.  At the same time, however, the question occurred to members of Ohio Fair Food:  How does a 21st century food company move from “old fashioned” to “modern?  With WiFi bars and flat screen TVs — or by joining one of the only worker-driven, comprehensive, and verifiable human rights programs in the world today?

To make the answer to this question perfectly clear to Wendy’s executives, over 120 Ohioans lined the sidewalk outside the flagship store, and they were joined by a delegation from Immokalee for the occasion.  As we filed into formation,  we could see every head in the restaurant turn our way.

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Through the window pane, the gorgeous art crafted specifically for this day spoke for itself.

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With just glass separating the two celebrations — one of modern design and growing profits, the other of modern human rights and real social accountability — the animo among the protesters outside only grew.  The cold was biting, but not one comment about it could be heard, as everyone sang and cheered…

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After many rounds of “We Shall Not Be Moved,” “We Shall Overcome” and other bedrock spirituals of the human rights movement, a delegation of faith leaders stepped forward to deliver the petition from the anti-slavery organization Walk Free, signed by over 156,000 people across the country. The group was met a distance from the restaurant by Mr. Bob Bertini, Wendy’s spokesperson. After the delegation unfurled the impressive petition and read it to him, he took it, rolled it up, and then — true to form — recited two of Wendy’s principal justifications for refusing to join their QSR peers in the Fair Food Program: “Because of our commitment to quality, we already pay a premium for our Florida tomatoes;” and “we already buy from farms participating in the Fair Food Program.”

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Wendys_Flagship_old_6But Jessica Shimberg, Associate Chaplain of Ohio Wesleyan had already had this very same exchange with Mr. Bertini before, and she wasn’t about to have it a second time. She explained to him that she’d grown up here, that she in fact had gone to high school with Wendy herself and knew of her commitment to the Thomas values, and that she had seen the impact of the Fair Food Program firsthand in Immokalee. She then went on to lay out that this referenced “premium,” whatever it was, was clear not going towards workers in the fields, that it was clearly not being monitored by the Fair Food Standards Council. That buying from participating farms was meaningless without a commitment to shift purchases away from farms where abuses, such as sexual harassment or modern slavery, might occur. Mr. Bertini assured those gathered that Wendy’s found slavery in any form “abhorrent” and wouldn’t tolerate it.

That’s when CIW’s Santiago Perez jumped in: “If that’s so, then why wouldn’t you commit to an agreement outlining that you wouldn’t buy from a farm where a theoretical case were to occur?” Mr. Bertini had nothing new to say.

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With final cheers and a powerful rallying finish from Santiago, the gathering came to a close. “It’s a little cool out here today, no?” he said. “But you have chosen to be here. You’ve shown your commitment to stand with workers in this struggle. You’ve built something powerful here in Ohio, something that can’t be stopped, and its that commitment and our unity that will see us to the day that Wendy’s, too, joins the program we’ve created and finally pays workers our due respect.”

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Selfies for Justice!…

Not all the action was in Dublin this week.  Responding to a call to action from the Student/Farmworker Alliance, hundreds of people across the nation sent in “selfies” with messages for Wendy’s.  It was all the social media team could do to keep up with the overwhelming response from all of those who perhaps could not make it out to Ohio, but who nevertheless stand firmly behind farmworkers and the Fair Food Program.

To close, we wanted to share just a few of these creative messages that flooded the social media world, representing the many beautiful faces of the Fair Food Nation (you can find the FULL collection at the Student/Farmworker Alliance’s Facebook page!): 

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 Click here for more!