“Is Wendy’s ready to continue alienating young people and consumers rather than join a proven solution to farmworker poverty and abuse?” Ohio Fair Food takes its message straight to Wendy’s shareholders at annual meeting!

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“We want to know that the food we consume does not come at the cost of another person’s dignity…”

After weeks of preparation and building excitement, scores of allies from the Ohio Fair Food organizing network made good on their promise to stand alongside Florida’s farmworkers this past Monday at Wendy’s annual shareholder meeting in Dublin, Ohio.  They gathered there in solidarity with the CIW’s call for Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program, and we have a first-hand photo report of all the action to share with you today — from outside the meeting and inside, as well, where the CIW and student allies addressed the shareholders and company executives directly.

It was a very full day, so let’s get right to it!  Here’s the report, hot off the presses from Alliance for Fair Food representatives in Ohio:

Wendy’s annual shareholder meeting began before 8am in the quiet Columbus suburb of Dublin, Ohio, on a cold, wind-whipped Monday morning.  Undaunted, some 75 people, inspired by the tireless organizing of their Ohio allies, took the workday off to travel to the action, from as far away as Cincinnati and Ann Arbor.  Fair Food Nation members brandished their banners and signs, forming a funnel for the arriving shareholders.  The crew was made up of countless organizations, their bond now deep after two and a half years of organizing together in the Wendy’s campaign:  Ohio Fair Food, the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center, the Central Ohio Workers Center, SFA at the Ohio State University, SFA at the University of Michigan, Real Food Challenge, Ohio AFL-CIO, Communication Workers of America and First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, to name just a few!

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Immediately before the meeting, the gathered protestors turned the gray day vibrant as they chanted and cheered in a jubilant send-off to CIW’s Lupe Gonzalo as she headed inside the meeting.  As the doors closed, the allies picked up their yellow flags and marched to the Wendy’s nearby flagship restaurant.  After a high-spirited protest there, the group gathered round for a spontaneous reflection.  When the circle finally closed, nobody was ready to leave without hearing the meeting report — so everyone piled into a nearby coffee shop to escape the wind and await news.

At just about that time, inside the meeting, the moment had finally come for Lupe to address Wendy’s executives and shareholders alike.  Word for word, here is what she said:

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I’m here today because it’s been ten years since we first sent a letter asking Wendy’s to meet higher ethical standards in its tomato supply chain and to pay a Fair Food Premium to address farmworkers’ sub-poverty wages. 

Since then, 90% of Florida’s tomato growers have joined the Fair Food Program, alongside Wendy’s four major competitors, who have recognized the Program as a crucial step to modernize their supply chains.

Without a doubt, the Program has brought most of the Florida tomato industry into the 21st century:  eliminating modern-day slavery and greatly reducing sexual harassment, among other things.  Just this year, the White House awarded the Coalition of Immokalee Workers with the Presidential Medal for Extraordinary Efforts in Combating Modern Slavery.

But we can’t stop there.  These crucial protections must be expanded to protect not only tens of thousands of workers in the Florida tomato fields, but hundreds of thousands of workers in other states and crops.  With Walmart’s commitment to the Fair Food Program in 2014, we are now poised to begin that expansion.

But Wendy’s commitment is necessary in order to ensure that workers at the base of your supply chain aren’t excluded from these rights.  Meanwhile, participating in the program will enable Wendy’s to mitigate risk and to give your consumers a product that you can truly call “honest.”

Shareholders smiled and nodded in Lupe’s direction.  As she finished, heads turned back to the front of the room for CEO Emil Brolick’s response:

We are proud to partner with suppliers that share our commitment to ethical business behaviors.  We have previously communicated our stance on the Fair Food Premium: While we support the goals of an organization that seeks to improve human rights, we prefer to rely on our suppliers to act as signatories to the agreement.  We are in the process of developing a Supplier Code of Conduct by year-end, and will continue to consider the best means of promoting responsible business practices in our suppliers.

Next up was a statement prepared by Ohio State University SFA’s Amanda Ferguson:

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Last year, my fellow student at OSU, Sara Stanger, stood here and informed you that after countless unanswered attempts at communicating with Wendy’s leadership, we were moving forward with a national campaign called Boot the Braids, wherein we — and students around the country — would be meeting with our administrations and organizing demonstrations on our campuses to end university licensing contracts with Wendy’s until the company commits to support the CIW’s Fair Food Program. 

In the year since then, Wendy’s has still not joined what the Washington Post called “one of the great human rights success stories of our day.”  And the reaction from millennials like myself has only grown stronger. […]

[…]  Two months ago, with still no word from Wendy’s, students from universities across the country with Wendy’s restaurants on campus took to the stage before thousands at the CIW’s Concert & Parade for Fair Food and announced a national student boycott of Wendy’s — to begin on my campus, OSU.  Since that time, the University of Michigan, whose students stand in support outside of this meeting space, has likewise adopted the boycott, and dozens of others are preparing to follow suit.

As a millennial, I recognize I am part of the target market of the fast food industry.  I speak for my generation when I say that new, flashy branding and modern restaurants are not enough to attract our business.  Our concerns for the food we eat goes beyond the menu.  As students and young people, we want to know that the food we consume does not come at the cost of another person’s dignity.  We want to know that this is a commitment of Wendy’s, too.

As the student boycott continues to grow, is Wendy’s ready to continue alienating young people and consumers rather than join a proven solution to farmworker poverty and abuse?

And with that, the meeting was adjourned and all were excused — though not before two shareholders approached Lupe to tell her how powerfully she had delivered the CIW’s message, and that they would be keeping an eye on this matter with their organizations’  pension funds in mind.

Fifteen minutes later, as Lupe walked through the double doors of the café where the protestors were gathered together with their warm drinks, the crowd burst into thunderous applause and cheers.  Moved by the unexpected, beautiful show of support, Lupe gave a powerful report-back from the meeting, letting them know that the presence and commitment of each and every one of them — and each and every person in the fair food movement, from the workers in Immokalee to those who are always ready to stand with them — not only make this struggle for justice possible, but enriching and joyous along the way.

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There were many, many more beautiful pictures from the action, so we couldn’t help but throw in an extra album.  Enjoy the photos, below, and stay tuned in the weeks ahead for more news from the Wendy’s campaign front!