An open letter to Wendy’s shareholders from the Campaign for Fair Food on the eve of the 2014 annual meeting…

[hupso_hide][hupso title=”Dear @Wendys shareholders…” url=”http://ciw-online.org/”]

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Are you sure your company is on the right path?  Is standing against the tide of progress for farmworkers really worth another year of protests, bad press, and increasing public scrutiny?…

Dear Wendy’s shareholder,

Tomorrow is the big annual meeting in Dublin, Ohio, your chance to hear from your company’s executives and officers about the successes of the past year and the challenges of the year ahead.  It’s also your chance to express your thoughts and concerns as a part owner of Wendy’s.

On the eve of tomorrow’s meeting, we here at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers would like to share with you our thoughts about the company’s position with regard to the Campaign for Fair Food.  But before we do, we’d like to remind you of the words of one of your own, Mr. Bradford Grazier, a shareholder who stood to speak at last year’s meeting in New York after listening to the CIW’s presentation on the merits of the Fair Food Program.  To be clear, Mr. Grazier spoke not as a representative of the CIW, nor as a Fair Food ally, but simply as a concerned shareholder moved to question the decision of Wendy’s CEO Emil Brolick to reject — on your behalf — participation in a proven solution to abuses like sexual harassment in its supply chain:

“Honestly, the potential bad publicity between the folks here and outside on the street does not do our company much good. I’m wondering what the downside is of not signing the darn agreement and doing something that I think would make a lot of sense.”

As Mr. Grazier spoke, the CIW delegation that addressed the assembled shareholders had already stepped outside the meeting to hold a crowded press conference in New York’s busy streets (below).  

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There they were joined by long-time Fair Food allies Kerry Kennedy, Executive Director of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, and Larry Cox, former Executive Director of Amnesty International, who echoed the CIW’s call for Wendy’s to join the growing Fair Food Program, a social responsibility initiative that already enjoyed the support of all of Wendys’ principal competitors from Burger King and Subway to Yum Brands, McDonald’s, and Chipotle.  It bears mentioning that last year’s shareholder action also came on the heels of a march by more than 300 Fair Food allies through the Big Apple, who took to the streets (below), live band and all, just days before the meeting to call on your company to “get with the Program”:

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Why, you might ask, are we rehashing all of the sound and fury around last year’s shareholder meeting? Well, if nothing else had happened on the Fair Food front since last year’s protests, you might be tempted to dismiss those demonstrations as the attempt of a small band of outsiders to hijack your company for their own interests, just another anti-corporate protest that popped and fizzled.  But what if last year’s actions were just the prelude to a year of escalating protests, bad press, and growing public scrutiny of Wendy’s indefensible decision to turn its back on long-overdue progress on sexual harassment and other farm labor working abuses?

What if, since last year’s protests, the Fair Food Program has become the single most respected social responsibility program in all of US agriculture, called “the best workplace monitoring program in the US,” on the front page of the New York Times?

What if, since last year’s protests, the world’s largest food retailer, Walmart, joined the Fair Food Program, agreeing to expand the Program to other crops in their supply chain and justifying their decision by saying, “Our participation in the Fair Food Program…  will ensure that our customers get great products at great prices from suppliers that are working to improve the lives of their workers”?

What if, since last year’s protests, consumer frustration with Wendy’s continued to rise, culminating in a massive march on the company’s headquarters in Dublin, OH, by 800 farmworkers and consumers this past spring (below)?

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We could go on, but we think the point is clear:  Mr Grazier was right.  The “potential bad publicity” he feared indeed came to pass, and as he predicted, it has not done your company any good whatsoever.  And yet, your executives and directors stubbornly continue to thumb their noses at the program that has, in the year since last year’s protests, been lauded by human rights observers from the White House to the United Nations for its unique success in preventing everything from sexual harassment and wage theft to modern-day slavery in the fields where Wendy’s buys its tomatoes.  

Wendys-may-28-shareholder-actionAnd that is why, this Wednesday in Dublin, Ohio, you and your fellow shareholders, your company’s CEO Mr. Brolick, and Wendy’s Board of Directors will be hearing once again from CIW representatives and their stalwart allies at the annual meeting (the flyer on the right announcing the shareholder action is the work of the fine folks at the inimitable Ohio Fair Food).

The Fair Food Program has not gone away since last year’s meeting, it has only grown stronger, as a social responsibility program and as a consumer movement, and it is time for your company to re-think its position.  

And that is also why we are writing to you today. As a shareholder, you have a voice in the decisions your company makes.  It may not seem like a big voice, and in fact, unless you happen to own enough shares to find yourself on the Board of Directors, like your company’s Chairman Norman Peltz, it is hard to believe that a single shareholder can be heard at all by the leaders of a multi-billion dollar company like Wendy’s.  

But don’t you think that, after a year of escalating pressure and disastrous public relations, Mr. Grazier’s words at last year’s meeting might just be ringing in the executives’ ears today?

Don’t you think that, if your executives and directors can’t seem to find their way toward a resolution of this escalating public relations crisis, it is time for you to help them drag Wendy’s out of the last century of farmworker exploitation and into the more modern, more humane food industry represented by the Fair Food Program?

We think it is.  And to help you form your own argument for Wednesday’s meeting, we are providing you, here below, with a quick review of the Year in Fair Food.  While most of the regular readers of this site are already familiar with the inspiring advances of the Fair Food Program since last spring, we have collected the highlights here below for your convenience, a one-time service so that you as a shareholder can be fully informed, ahead of tomorrow’s meeting, of developments on a front that will grow ever more important to your company in the year to come.  

After you have had a chance to review the Year in Fair Food, we hope you can join the CIW, our Fair Food allies, and Mr. Grazier in calling on Wendy’s to drop, at long last, its senseless resistance to progress and join the Fair Food Program.  

Sincerely, The Coalition of Immokalee Workers

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The Year in Fair Food

October 2013

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International anti-slavery giant Walk Free launches e-action calling on Wendy’s to “sign the Fair Food Agreement now and help end slavery forever in Florida’s tomato fields.”

The Australia-based anti-slavery organization Walk Free — which boasts a community of over 4 million members — wrote a novel email to its vast network of supporters the other day.  Like most emails calling for action in the anti-slavery movement, it began by recounting the story of a worker, Antonio, forced to work against his will. But then this email took a different turn:

… Just a few years ago, stories like Antonio’s were frighteningly common. The situation in the U.S. tomato industry was so bad that one federal prosecutor called Florida “Ground-zero for modern slavery”.2

Now is the part of the message we rarely get to write in the fight against modern slavery – we’re on the verge of eliminating slavery in Florida’s tomato fields. Forever.

That’s because the Fair Food Program has made historic progress in tackling forced labour and exploitation on Florida’s tomato farms. A massive 90% of growers have already joined the Fair Food Program, an initiative with a proven track record in fighting modern slavery. And four of the 5 biggest U.S. fast food giants have signed the Fair Food Agreement, investing in the fight for a slavery-free agricultural industry. 

Now that’s an exciting email!  It’s not often that we can talk about winning the fight against modern-day slavery, but thanks to the Fair Food Program, which imposes strict, zero-tolerance market consequences for forced labor, Florida’s tomato fields have gone from “ground zero for modern-day slavery” to zero cases of slavery in just three years.  The email continues, identifying one of the few remaining obstacles to winning the fight altogether, Wendy’s:

But one company stands in the way of progress: Wendy’s refuses to join the Fair Food Program to ensure slavery is not in its supply chain. If Wendy’s follows the lead of McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King and Taco Bell, their immense purchasing power could help bring the last 10% of farms to the table and ensure the tomato industry never sees another case of modern slavery… read more

The Walk Free petition has collected over 356,353 signatures — and counting! — by outraged anti-slavery activists from around the world since its launch back.  Also in October of last year, the CIW was chosen to receive the 2013 Franklin D. Roosevelt Institute’s Freedom from Want Medal…

A good couple of days for Fair Food: Four Freedoms Medal Ceremony…

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[…] The highlight of the New York sojourn, though, was the unforgettable experience of receiving the 2013 Roosevelt Institute Freedom from Want Medal at a moving, Wednesday evening ceremony in the heart of Manhattan.  And that doesn’t even begin to do the moment justice.  Indeed, the ceremony, held under the timeless arches of the St. James’ Episcopal Church on the Upper East Side, was a highlight of our first twenty years of organizing, and those two decades have included quite a few crowning moments (like thisthisthisthis, and this, just to name a few…).

From meeting, and getting to know, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt — board chair of the Roosevelt Institute and granddaughter of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt — to spending time with our fellow laureates — Wendell Berry, Paul Krugman, Ameena Matthews, and Sister Simone Campbell — to sharing the moment with the many close friends and longtime allies who traveled to the city for the event, it was an extraordinary evening…

November 2013

The year wrapped up for Wendy’s with a bang, with a series of powerful actions across the country to go along with the fast food chain’s “Founder’s Week” celebrations…

Massive numbers, multiple actions rock Wendy’s! 

Over 200 protesters marched on Wendy’s in Columbus, OH, to demand that the hamburger giant join the rest of the fast-food leaders in advancing the human rights of farmworkers in its supply chain.
Over 200 protesters marched on Wendy’s in Columbus, OH, to demand that the hamburger giant join the rest of the fast-food leaders in advancing the human rights of farmworkers in its supply chain.

200 in Ohio, 130 in DC, 120 in Miami, 80 high schoolers in Jacksonville, plus protests in Austin, Oakland, Chapel Hill, New York, Princeton, Haverford, Providence, St. Louis …  just to name a few! 

Things just got a whole lot more real for Wendy’s. The 2013-2014 Fair Food season began in earnest this past week, and the focus of all the action was the Ohio-based hamburger giant and its refusal to support fundamental human rights in its tomato supply chain.

Wendy’s Founder’s Week of Action was a rousing success, with huge actions in multiple cities and smaller protests in many more.  Fittingly, Ohio led the way with a massive march of more than 200 Fair Food activists from one restaurant to another in the city of Columbus.  Photos from the protest reflect the intensity and passion of the participants, in particular the incredible array of original art produced in the lead up to Saturday’s big protest.  The march was so epic — including not just all the beautiful signs and banners, but creative new chants to boot —  that it merits an epic report…  read more

January 2014

Then, just a few months later, in January of 2014, the Fair Food Program took a truly historic leap forward…

World’s largest retailer to put unprecedented market power behind groundbreaking Fair Food Program; Will work with CIW “to strengthen and expand” the FFP beyond Florida and into new crops!

Walmart representatives John Amaya (left), Tom Leech (center) and CIW’s Lucas Benitez, Gerardo Reyes Chavez, and Nely Rodriguez (far right) sign historic agreement at a Lipman Produce farm outside of Immokalee.

United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights says FFP “offers promise for us all,” is “eager to see whether Fair Food Program is able to… serve as a model elsewhere in the world.”

This afternoon, at a ceremony held under a watermelon packing shed on a tomato farm outside of Immokalee (photo above), Walmart and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers signed an historic agreement for the world’s largest retailer to join the CIW’s Fair Food Program, the widely-acclaimed social responsibility program that is bringing real, measurable change to the men and women who harvest tomatoes for Florida’s $650 million tomato industry.  As part of the agreement, Walmart will work with the CIW to expand the Fair Food Program beyond Florida and into “other crops beyond tomatoes in its produce supply chain.”

Alexandra Guáqueta, chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, also attended the signing ceremony “to support the Immokalee workers and the Fair Food Program, which offers such promise for us all,” and conveyed a statement on behalf of the Working Group.  The statement praises the Fair Food Program for its “smart mix” of monitoring and enforcement tools, including “market incentives for growers and retailers, monitoring policies and, crucially, a robust and accessible mechanism to resolve complaints and provide remedy,” adding, “Workers have no fear of retaliation if they identify problems.”  The statement concludes, “We are eager to see whether the Fair Food Program is able to leverage further change within participating businesses, and serve as a model elsewhere in the world.” … read more

February 2014

Wendy’s also took a shot from yet another corner of the Fair Food Nation, the ever-growing sustainable food movement, whose leading lights penned a searing letter to Wendy’s in February of 2014.  Signed by luminaries such as Frances Moore Lappé and Raj Patel as well as 75+ other leading voices in the world of food, the letter slammed Wendy’s for continuing to turn its back on the nation’s leading model for human rights in agriculture:

Dear Mr. Brolick,

As food writers, chefs, small and family farmers, sustainable businesses leaders, anti-hunger groups, and food justice advocates, we are writing to express our grave disappointment that Wendy’s has thus far refused to join the most far-reaching, successful, and comprehensive program for social responsibility in the US produce industry: The Fair Food Program.

Ben Burkett, President of the Family Farm Coalition
Ben Burkett, President of the Family Farm Coalition, visits a tomato field in Immokalee with the Fair Food Program.

When Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas opened the first Wendy’s store, he outlined values that would anchor the Wendy’s brand, such as “Do The Right Thing,” “Treat People with Respect,” and “Give Something Back.” Today, the eyes of the growing food movement turn toward you to ask that you uphold these guiding values upon which Wendy’s has built its image… read more

March 2014

Not to be forgotten, March’s highlight was the massive convergence of Fair Food activists from across the United States on Wendy’s corporate headquarters in Dublin, OH, during this spring’s Now is the Time Tour:

“Mr. Brolick, we are here to invite you to finish what you helped start…” :  750+ march on Wendy’s headquarters in Dublin, Ohio, as Now Is the Time Tour lets Wendy’s know Ohio is Fair Food Territory! 

On a bracingly cold but brilliant day in Dublin, Ohio, over 750 marchers — including farmworkers from Immokalee, allies from around the northeast and midwest, and, most importantly, hundreds of Ohioans — declared Ohio a Fair Food state with an epic march on Wendy’s corporate headquarters that won the hearts of the people of Dublin with its irrepressible exuberance, remarkable diversity, and urgent message of justice… read more 

April 2014

And just last month, the New York Times published the front page article, “A Penny Buys Progress”, which not only caught the attention of Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, but also hit the Top 5 most emailed articles of the New York Times’ online edition.  If you haven’t read the whole article yet, take a moment to check it out (and share it with all your friends)…

In Florida Tomato Fields, a Penny Buys Progress

By  

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Photo by Rick Perry/New York Times.

IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Not long ago, Angelina Velasquez trudged to a parking lot at 5 each morning so a crew leader’s bus could drop her at the tomato fields by 6.  She often waited there, unpaid — while the dew dried — until 10 a.m., when the workers were told to clock in and start picking.

Back then, crew leaders often hectored and screamed at the workers, pushing them to fill their 32-pound buckets ever faster in this area known as the nation’s tomato capital.  For decades, the fields here have had a reputation for horrid conditions.  Many migrant workers picked without rest breaks, even in 95-degree heat. Some women complained that crew leaders groped them or demanded sex in exchange for steady jobs.

But those abusive practices have all but disappeared, said Ms. Velasquez, an immigrant from Mexico.  She and many labor experts credit a tenacious group of tomato workers, who in recent years forged partnerships with giant restaurant companies like McDonald’s and Yum Brands (owner of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC) to improve conditions in the fields… read more

Finally, April also included the premiere of Food Chains, an award-winning documentary highlighting the CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food, at the Tribeca Film Festival.  If the premiere at Tribeca was any indication, the launch of the Food Chains consumer campaign in the fall will make quite the splash:

Eva Longoria headlines at Tribeca premiere, joins with New York Times to carry CIW all the way to #7 on the global Twitter trending list… 

[…] On Saturday, the new documentary “Food Chains,” which focuses on the fight for farmworker justice through the lens of the CIW’s 2012 Fast for Fair Food, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.  The film, set for release this fall, is a thoughtful examination of the role of supermarket giants like Publix in perpetuating farmworker poverty and exploitation, and of the power of the CIW’s Fair Food Program for reversing the damage done to farmworkers by those corporations’ volume purchasing policies. 

Following the screening, the film’s executive producers, Eva Longoria and Eric Schlosser, joined the CIW’s Gerardo Reyes and director Sanjay Rawal for a “Tribeca Talks” panel (below) on the issues at the heart of “Food Chains”… read more

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Word of mouth about “Food Chains” following the Tribeca premiere has been nothing but superlative.  

You might be thinking:  Sure Wendy’s took it on the chin last year, but next year this whole “Fair Food” thing should settle down, right? 

Interesting footnote: Eva Longoria’s first job as a teenager was at Wendy’s, which makes any issue involving the hamburger giant a bit more personal for her.  “Food Chains,” which will be released nationwide in late fall, will be launching an action campaign with Eva’s help to raise consumer awareness around the groundbreaking Fair Food Program and to increase the pressure on those companies that have yet to join.  Should be a fun ride…