Media round-up! Freedom Fast, Time’s Up Wendy’s March make headlines across the nation…

Huffington Post: “This isn’t just a fight between the CIW and a fast food restaurant. This is at the very heart of what corporate responsibility looks like in the 21st century…”

The last two weeks have gone by in a blur.  Between recovering from the exhausting, five-day Freedom Fast and navigating the flood of media that ensued when the Wendy’s Boycott unexpectedly went viral last week (thanks to Wendy’s outrageous claim that farmworker women were “exploiting” the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements), we’ve hardly had a chance to catch our breath here at CIW headquarters since returning from New York City.  Among the many things lost in the post-fast flood: the Freedom Fast Media Round-Up, our effort to capture and convey the full breadth of coverage of the five-day protest at the heart of the country’s largest city.  And the coverage was indeed impressive.  With stories in major national outlets like Newsweek, reports in New York’s own local powerhouses like the Village Voice, and even a video recap of the huge culminating march in Mexico’s leading progressive news outlet, La Jornada (below), the farmworkers’ week of action in New York made national and international headlines:


Today, we bring you some of the highlights from that coverage, reflecting the three principal themes that defined the unique action: the deeply troubling stories of sexual violence faced by farmworker women in the fields; the powerful and growing movement for change spearheaded by the CIW through the Fair Food Program and the Worker-driven Social Responsibility model; and the increasingly desperate public relations strategies deployed by Wendy’s when forced to defend its unconscionable decision to stand against justice and dignity for farmworker women.

First up, one of the country’s most widely-read magazines, Newsweek, ran an extensive report on the fast, reaching millions of readers across the U.S.:


By Nicole Goodkind // March 14, 2018

A coalition of farmworkers is locked in a battle with Wendy’s, claiming the fast food chain cut its long-term ties to Florida farms in favor of Mexican labor to avoid strict worker protections against sexual misconduct. Dozens of workers are staging a five-day hunger strike this week to call on the company to meet what they say are new industry standards at a time when the #MeToo movement is drawing new attention to sexual harassment and abuse.

The fast food company has turned down multiple requests to join the Fair Food Program, a partnership between workers, growers and retail food companies that seeks to ensure safe working conditions for farm laborers, some of whom report making well below the federal minimum wage. The program was created in 2011 by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a farmworker-focused human rights organization. Other fast food chains, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Taco Bell, KFC, and Chipotle, and supermarkets, like Walmart, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, have signed on to the program. […]

The extensive Newsweek article also featured Wendy’s absurd claim that the company’s “rigorous” auditing system is every bit as effective as the worker-driven Fair Food Program.  But rather than simply allow Wendy’s assertions of social responsibility to go unchallenged, the article sought comment from Fordham Law Professor (and international labor expert) James Brudney, and the CIW’s Lupe Gonzalo, both of whom offered compelling rebuttals to Wendy’s statement based in their combined decades of experience and analysis of the field of social responsibility:

[…] Noelle Damico, director of the Alliance for Fair Food, said Wendy’s guidelines for growers are set as “expectations” and carry no penalties for violations.

The company countered that, when it finds suppliers violating its code, Wendy’s requires corrective measures, “initiation of a probationary period, development of a continuous improvement program and completion of a satisfactory re-audit.”

Labor experts noted that such codes are hard to enforce, particularly in foreign countries with more lax labor regulations.

“This isn’t a code of conduct, it’s a set of aspirations,” said James Brudney, the Joseph Crowley Chair in Labor and Employment Law at Fordham University School of Law. “You can be confident that there’s no labor organization in Mexico protecting workers like there is in the U.S.  They’re participating in a production chain that has a history of abuses.”

[Lupe] Gonzalo, who worked on farms up and down the eastern seaboard for 12 years, says she witnessed corporate auditors come to her farms “every few years.” Bathrooms would suddenly be clean on the day they arrived, and the auditors never talked to the farmworkers to get a full picture, she said. “The reality on the ground is that there is no enforcement behind [codes of conduct] and no guarantee they will take action,” Gonzalo said.  Read more

Many media outlets also gave the fasters space to share their own, often quite disturbing, personal experiences with sexual abuse in Florida’s fields prior to the protections of the Fair Food Program.  Fasters told of abuses that, sadly, continue to plague the lives of countless women in many industries still beyond the reach of the Fair Food Program’s proven protections.  Here are a few of the anecdotes captured by independent journalist Maham Hasan, writing for the Village Voice:


Immigrant farmworkers say time to call Time’s Up on mistreatment of female farmworkers

by Maham Hasan // March

… “When you’re harvesting tomatoes, you’re leaning down and bending,” Gonzalo explains. “There were people who would come by while you were leaning down and doing unwanted physical contact, touching you in ways that you didn’t want to be touched. These were crew leaders, supervisors, even fellow workers.”

Gonzalo moved alone to America in 2000 from Guatemala, at the age of 20. “We are people of the fields,” she says in her native Spanish. “Since I was very little I’ve been working in agriculture.” She did not know what she would find in her new home, only that she wanted something more than the unceasing poverty she’d endured in Guatemala.

Lupe Gonzalo with her two sons (14 and 17) after breaking the fast on March 15th

For the last twelve years, Gonzalo has harvested tomatoes in Florida, Virginia, and North and South Carolina, a story she wants the public to hear again and again. “We had to work in silence and put our heads down, in order to deflect and not feel the harassment that was coming our way,” she says.

Gonzalo would often observe women returning sad and silent after having taken a ride with crew leaders. These leaders would lure women into their trucks by telling them they’d drive them to a different spot on the farm, and then instead would drive them to a deserted area, where they would sexually coerce, grope, or sexually assault the women. There was no one the women could report the behavior to. “Sometimes when you did that, it would make the problem even worse, which was why people were discouraged from reporting,” Gonzalo says.

Along with Julia de la Cruz, Nely Rodriguez, and Silvia Perez, three other women in the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Gonzalo is trying to bring attention to the sexual harassment and assault female farmworkers who harvest America’s crops regularly endure. On February 28, these four women penned an open letter to the Time’s Up movement that beseeched the women of Hollywood to share their platform with the farmworker women of the South who have endured low wages, rampant sexual harassment and abuse, and some of the worst working conditions in the country. […]

[…] “Women agricultural laborers have for decades said, ‘Me Too,’ ” says Gonzalo. “It’s important that the media focus not just on the stories of actresses and models and high-profile figures, but also on the day-to-day struggles of workers everywhere, of women everywhere.” […]

[…] Julia de la Cruz moved to Florida twelve years ago from Guerrero, Mexico, at the age of 22. She left behind her entire family to support them with her wages, she says in Spanish. She has worked as a migrant farmworker, chasing harvest seasons from Tennessee to Michigan to Florida and back. There’s no type of plant she hasn’t picked with her hands, including squash, cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and rice.

For her fellow farmworkers, she says, even Spanish is often a second language, as indigenous languages are their native tongues. Lacking fluency in a common language, as well as unfamiliarity with labor laws, makes them an easy mark for wage theft, as farms pay them in cash with no record of what they were owed.

Some supervisors would summon farmworkers to work around the clock without pay. Others visited the female farmworkers in the dead of night.

De la Cruz says she was lucky: She was able to ask for help from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, who persuaded the grower to fire the farm supervisor who had subjected her to inappropriate and uninvited touching.

“I learned that the same person had raped someone before, in that same farm,” she says. “Two young women, but they were fired instead.” Though she never met them, she says, “what I told myself was that I will never let that happen to me. I will find a way out if it ever escalates beyond that, but it never did.”  Read more

Meanwhile, Think Progress — the media arm of the Center for American Progress — covered the Freedom Fast as well, and also rooted its coverage in the concrete experiences of sexual assault faced by fasters in the fields before the Program:

Wendy’s refuses to join program protecting farm workers from sexual abuse


By Gina Ciliberto // March 16, 2018

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK — When Silvia Perez came to Immokalee, Florida from Guatemala in 1993, there was one profession that made sense: working in the fields.

“Tomato-picking is the biggest industry in Florida, and you find out about it right when you arrive,” she said. “It’s bigger than textiles or the restaurant business.”

Perez got a job on a farm in Immokalee, where she was one of five women on a farm saturated with men; she made friends with two other women at work and they stuck together. Before long, their male supervisor began following them around while they worked. One day, he compared the tightness of their clothing and encouraged Perez to wear tighter shirts and more fashionable clothes.

Perez dealt with it. With two kids to feed and minimal fluency in English, she felt that tomato picking was the best option for her in her new home.

Then, in 2008, her supervisor touched her breasts.

“He asked me if they are real or fake,” she recalled. “I was so angry.”

She remembered the incident as she protested on the streets of New York City for the past five days in support of worker protections.  […]

[…] “I am here as a mother to break the silence and to end the abuse that exists where Wendy’s buys their tomatoes,” Perez said. “We’re demonstrating and we’re being joined by students, by thousands of people. And they’re on our side. They’re listening to us. They come, they show up. We hope that Wendy’s will listen. If not, we will keep showing up.” […]

[…] Perez worries about farm workers who aren’t protected by the FFP. She’s heard stories from pickers who have witnessed sexual abuse and wage theft on non-FFP-protected farms. She was horrified to read a 2014 Los Angeles Times exposé of human trafficking circles run on the Bioparques de Occidente farm in Mexico.

Perez and the rest of the CIW said their dignity should be at the center of Wendy’s transactions.

Think Progress then pivoted to the question of what it takes to create sustainable, long-term change in agriculture in an interview with the Executive Director of the Fair Food Standards Council, former State Supreme Court Judge Laura Safer Espinoza:

Laura Espinoza, director of the Fair Food Standards Council, the third-party organization that oversees the FFP, agreed. She called the FFP an all-around beneficial situation: buyers get transparency from their supply chain, growers oversee safe, secure workplaces, turnover among workers on farms decreases, and tomato pickers like Perez are safe at their jobs.

“It’s sustainable, it’s scalable,” Espinoza told ThinkProgress. “All it takes is buyer’s will powered by years of conscience. It’s a no-brainer to say that buyers want their food grown under just conditions.” […][

[…]  “We at the Council are able to stop abuses because we go out to the farms and say, ‘If this doesn’t stop, you will not be able to sell your produce to our participating buyers.’ That’s what Wendy’s is denying to farm workers,” Espinoza said.

She cited a 2017 lawsuit in which a female farm worker at Favorite Farms in Tampa, Florida was sexually harassed and raped by her supervisor. When she reported the incidents, she was suspended, then fired. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued the farm and won the lawsuit, but Espinoza said that didn’t provide enough long-term protection for the workers on that farm.

“With the FFP, if a farm worker or grower is found guilty of sexual assault or retaliation, they are banned from all FFP-participating farms,” she said. “But that individual can work at Wendy’s. Because they’re not enforcing these basic human rights.”  Read more

In an article in The Nation, author and journalist Rinku Sen asked the question on everyone’s mind throughout the week of the Freedom Fast: Given the documented and ongoing human rights crisis facing farmworker women in America’s fields, and given the proven success of the Fair Food Program in addressing and preventing human rights abuses… what in the world is Wendy’s even thinking in refusing to join the FFP?

These Farmworkers Know How to End Sexual Harassment in the Fields. Will Wendy’s Listen?

Members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers are fasting to pressure Wendy’s to join a breakthrough fair-food program that’s raised wages and made workplace harassment obsolete.

By Rinku Sen // March 15, 2018

What if you were running a major fast-food chain that had to get its tomatoes from somewhere, and you came across a program that had ended sexual harassment and violence among 90 percent of Florida-based tomato growers? What if participating in this program cost you only one penny per pound of tomatoes you bought? And what if 60 percent of your competitors, including McDonald’s, Chipotle Grill, Subway, Taco Bell, and Burger King, had long since joined up? Why would you avoid such a program, even going so far as to change your source for tomatoes from Florida, where this innovation was born, to Mexico, where human-rights abuses in agriculture abound?

That’s what the members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) are asking Nelson Peltz, the chair of Wendy’s board of directors. Demanding an answer, these farmworkers, mostly but not exclusively women, are conducting a group fast this week on the sidewalk outside Peltz’s office in New York. They want Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program (FFP), a breakthrough solution that has made work safer and fairer for thousands of the farmworkers who make it possible for Americans to eat fresh vegetables. The farmworkers have declared #TimesUpWendy’s, confident that the CIW model, which places sexual abuse squarely in the context of all labor rights and has a host of legally binding accountability mechanisms, is the key to ending sexual violence not just in their own but in all industries. […]

[…] The FFP has six components: worker-to-worker education, the Code of Conduct, the premium-bonus scheme to improve compensation, the complaint line, and audits of farm conditions and immediate consequences for violating the standards. The coalition convinces buyers to add the Code of Conduct, which essentially repeats existing labor laws, as a standard for choosing suppliers. The particular solutions are designed for a seasonal industry, to support growers in doing the right thing and to provide a path to redemption when they don’t. The system maximizes the monitoring power of the farmworkers themselves with a robust but simple reporting mechanism and by making the agreement legally binding.

The specifics of each component make this genius package of solutions functional. The premium, for example, is a creative way of lifting workers’ quality of life without further stressing the growers whose own earnings are often meager. Essentially, partners agree to extra to the price of the unit, say 1 cent more per pound of tomatoes. That money goes to the workers in the form of a bonus in every paycheck. The coalition and the partners negotiate that addition each year. Since the program started, $15 million in bonuses have moved from buyers to workers, alleviating at least a little of the intense poverty that otherwise marks farmwork.

Worker education begins at the point of hire with an in-person training, run by the CIW and with the growers present. The complaint line is operated 24 hours by a human being who is also an expert in farm-labor conditions and legal compliance. When a supervisor violates the Code of Conduct, not only might they be turned over to the law, but the grower will be suspended from the program and not allowed to sell to partner buyers. […]

[…]  Nely Rodriguez, a former farmworker who now organizes with the CIW, said that the members have taken heart from the #metoo and #TimesUp momentum. After seven years of intensive worker education on sexual harassment, addressing not only harmful employer behavior but also that of other workers, Rodriguez is seeing more male farmworkers support this part of the platform. She says that’s partly because their own humanity is reinforced at work and partly because of the broader public attention to sexual abuse issues. “In years past the working environment that we were in was very uncomfortable because it was majority men and fewer of us women,” said Rodriguez. “Now we see the men are supporting us as women and I think that’s also because they see the effect [the FFP] is having on them. They say we’re being treated like the workers that we are, like human beings and not as tools or machines.”  Read more

For our final highlight, we turn to the Huffington Post, which went beyond the Fair Food Program itself to cast a spotlight on the remarkable promise of the Worker-driven Social Responsibility model, which, based on the Fair Food Program’s unique mix of monitoring and enforcement tools, is expanding into industries beyond agriculture both here and abroad:

Farmworkers Call Out Wendy’s For Failure To Act On Sexual Abuse And Harassment

The fast food chain maintains that its own “rigorous” internal auditing system protects workers from abuse.

By Kari Lydersen // March 21, 2018

Gerardo Reyes-Chavez, a Coalition of Immokalee Workers organizer, told the crowd in New York that the Coalition is meeting with workers from other industries, including cleaning and chicken processing, to help translate the model to those sectors.

The Coalition is part of the Worker-Driven Social Responsibility Network, which facilitates such efforts. Sean Sellers, director of strategic partnerships for that organization, pointed to the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, a legally binding agreement between clothing brands and labor unions created in the wake of a deadly garment factory fire and building collapse which killed more than 1,000 people. He said network members have been collaborating with Bangladeshi and other international labor rights organizers to promote similar legally binding contracts between brands and workers.

Sellers noted that clothing or electronic brands’ attempts to distance themselves from conditions in the plants where their products are made mirror the response of restaurants and grocery stores on farming conditions.

“The corporations’ response is the same, to say, ‘trust us, we’ve got this under control,’” Sellers said. “So you’re seeing a battle between two different models, one designed by the workers involving enforceable contracts with brands, and on the other hand, corporations’ model where compliance is voluntary, workers have no role and there’s no transparency … This isn’t just a fight between the CIW and a fast food restaurant. This is at the very heart of what corporate responsibility looks like in the 21st century.”  Read more

And that’s a wrap — at least for the highlights!  Don’t miss all the other excellent articles that came out throughout the Freedom Fast and Time’s Up Wendy’s March — and make sure to stay tuned for even more hard-hitting pieces coming to a media outlet near you soon…