Ten-day, ten-city tour to take farmworkers, allies to Wendy’s home state of Ohio, then back to Florida with a last stop in Publix’s hometown of Lakeland…
Stops along the way to include actions in major cities, including Atlanta, GA, Raleigh, NC, Louisville, KY and Nashville, TN!
During his speech at the March on Washington 50 years ago last August, Dr. Martin Luther King shared the following words with the nation — a nation on the brink of turmoil due to the stubborn, centuries-long denial of African Americans’ civil and economic rights by a shrinking circle of hardcore segregationists — to underscore what he called “the fierce urgency of now”:
“Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.”
The “now” to which Dr. King referred was a crucial moment in the decades-long history of the Civil Rights Movement. There had been several victories in the years preceding the March on Washington — including the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kans., declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional and paving the way for large-scale desegregation, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, desegregating the bus system in Montgomery, AL, through community action — but it was still early in the movement, and a long road of struggle remained to be traveled for the victories to take root.
The fierce urgency of now… today
Today, fifty years later, farmworkers find themselves in a similarly crucial moment in their two-decade-old struggle for human rights and dignity. Since launching the Campaign for Fair Food in 2001 with the Taco Bell Boycott, workers from Immokalee and their allies across the country have seen twelve major victories, from the seminal Fair Food agreement with Taco Bell in 2005 to the agreement with Walmart just last week. And three years ago, the Campaign for Fair Food brought the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange and over 90% of the Florida tomato industry on board, making possible the 2011 launch of the Fair Food Program. In the three short years since that landmark agreement, the Fair Food Standards Council has overseen the implementation of the Fair Food Program in Florida’s tomato fields, and the changes — identifying and eliminating the bad actors and bad practices that plagued Florida’s fields for decades, and establishing new practices and policies that promote a safer, more humane workplace — have been nothing short of astonishing.
Those results have been achieved through a combination of worker-to-worker education, an effective complaint investigation and resolution process, regular field and farm office audits, market consequences for violations of the Fair Food Code of Conduct, and the penny-per-pound premium. The approach is based on two key principles:
1) When it comes to protecting human rights in corporate supply chains, the humans whose rights are in question must be the principal architects of the effort, and;
2) Market consequences are the only incentive powerful enough to ensure consistent compliance with human rights standards.
But though the New Day of respect for fundamental human rights has indeed dawned in Florida’s fields, there remains a great deal more to be done before we can truly walk the “sunlit path of justice” of Dr. King’s vision.
Publix, Wendy’s obstruct the path…
In the wake of the Walmart agreement earlier this month — a watershed moment in the Fair Food movement, signaling the consolidation of the Fair Food Program in the Florida tomato industry and the expansion of its innovative model beyond Florida and to crops other than tomatoes — the editorial board of the Tampa Bay Times (one of Publix’s two hometown papers) wrote:
With Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Wal-Mart now participating in the program, there is no reason Publix should not join its grocery competitors in helping to raise pay and improve working conditions in Florida’s tomato fields. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has demonstrated that determination, organization and public outreach can make a real difference in improving the lives of workers who are performing backbreaking work to feed America. Adding Wal-Mart to the effort will pay huge dividends, but there is more work to do… read more
That “more work” to which the Times’ editorial refers is the need to win still more support for the Program from the retail food giants, from companies like Publix and Wendy’s that refuse to step up to the new industry standards for human rights protection in their supply chains.
The Fair Food Program’s impact on workers’ lives is a direct function of the number of buyers participating in the Program. Through the penny-per-pound premium that goes to improve wages, more buyers means a larger Fair Food bonus on workers’ paychecks. And through the participating buyers’ commitment to purchase Florida tomatoes only from growers that comply with the Fair Food Code of Conduct, more buyers means greater support for the participating growers that meet the human rights standards set out in the Code. And so every day that Publix and Wendy’s refuse to join, the Fair Food Program is unable to realize its full potential, and farmworkers’ poverty is prolonged.
In 2001, we launched the Campaign for Fair Food with a simple slogan: Taco Bell makes farmworkers poor. But today, Publix and Wendy’s are keeping farmworkers poor through their unconscionable refusal to join their competitors in support of the Fair Food Program.
What’s worse: Today, with their primary competitors supporting the penny-per-pound premium, both Wendy’s and Publix are actively profiting from their refusal to join the Program, wringing a small cost advantage over their competitors out of the meager wages of farmworkers who pick their tomatoes.
Now is the time for this indefensible exploitation to end. Now is the time for Publix and Wendy’s to abandon the road that leads back to the day when farmworkers were invisible and the hollow claims of corporate-led social responsibility went unchallenged. Now is the time for Publix and Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Nation — farmworkers, consumers, growers, and their competitors — on the road to real social responsibility, respect for farmworkers as human beings, and a 21st century food industry where human rights are not only protected, but valued, the road to the New Day.
And so, we go on the road again…
In March, 2002, we hit the road for the first time in the Taco Bell Truth Tour. This year, twelve years and twelve Fair Food agreements later, we are going on the road again on the “Now is the Time” Tour, calling on Publix and Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program. The Tour will cover ten cities in ten days and will take us from Florida to Ohio and back again, with actions in major cities along the route.
Today the Fair Food Program is universally lauded for its unique success in combating the many forms of farm labor abuse that have plagued Florida’s fields for decades, from sexual harassment to forced labor. The Program is cited as an exemplary initiative, a partnership that not only protects the human rights of workers who put food on our tables, but the interests of everyone from the bottom to the top of the food industry, by forging a Florida tomato industry free of abuse and prepared for the challenges of the 21st century. It is a program that has brought honor to the growers and buyers who have embraced it. And today we stand on the threshold of expansion, promising to carry the gains of the past three years beyond Florida’s tomato fields to countless more workers.
In the words of the Tampa Bay Times editorial, “there is no reason Publix should not join its grocery competitors in helping to raise pay and improve working conditions in Florida’s tomato fields.” The same holds true for Wendy’s, which has no excuse for not joining its fast-food competitors that have stepped up and done their part to bring long-overdue justice to the fields.
Now is the time.
And this March, we are going to take that message on the road.