Why are farmworkers embarking on the 4 for Fair Food Tour?

By now, you know that farmworkers will be embarking on the 4 for Fair Food Tour from March 2-14, traveling across the nation to four of the country’s top public universities – the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Ohio State University in Columbus, and the University of Florida in Gainesville – to join students and community members in calling on these institutions to end their relationships with Wendy’s until the fast-food giant joins the award-winning Fair Food Program.  Beyond the tour itself, young people, community leaders, and farmworkers are calling for a national boycott of the hamburger chain, demanding that, instead of cheap “4 for $4” deals, Wendy’s put human rights on the menu.

You know what the tour is, where it’s headed, and when it’s happening.  Today, we want to lay out the why.  Why are farmworkers taking 12 days away from work and family to travel across the country to major universities?  Why is cutting business ties with Wendy’s so important for these institutions?  And, perhaps most importantly, why is it so critical that you do everything you can to support the tour?

We will start with the question of why universities.  Perhaps the schools themselves can answer that question best.  From the University of Michigan’s website:

Principles for Community and Civic Engagement

U-M is a public institution with a deep public ethos. Our mission to serve the people of Michigan and the world is deeply rooted in our ethos and identity as a public institution. Through our engagement we can directly benefit the society that supports us by combining our expertise with that of people who live in communities, both around us and around the world, to build on their own capacities and to maximize and realize their opportunities. By learning from communities, we develop connections with new ideas that challenge us and confront us with the new questions that allow us to create, communicate, preserve and apply knowledge, art and academic values to the challenges of the world. And through the opportunities that communities provide to help educate our students, we create the leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future.

“Through engagement we can directly benefit the society that supports us…”

“By learning from communities, we develop connections with new ideas that challenge us…”

“And through the opportunities that communities provide to help educate our students, we create the leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future.”

These are good and noble values.  And the University of Michigan is not alone in espousing them.  All four schools have their own versions of this bold mission statement, clearly worded values and principles that they profess — to their students and to the world — are central to their missions as public universities.

But they are little more than empty words if those who swear to uphold them fail to act when presented with a stark moral choice like that posed by the national student-led “Boot the Braids Campaign” to end contracts with Wendy’s on campuses.  

It’s time to put principles into action.

The four flagship state universities that farmworkers will visit on the 4 for Fair Food Tour have a responsibility to send a clear and unequivocal message to Wendy’s: Until you put human rights on the menu, you cannot sell food on our campus.  Farmworkers, who themselves have confronted first-hand the abuses that take place in the absence of responsibility and leadership from corporations like Wendy’s, will join with students and community allies at each university to call for an end to any business relationship with Wendy’s until the fast-food giant joins the Fair Food Program.

The human rights crisis in agriculture today is as widespread as it is well-documented. Instances of sexual violence, forced labor, and children as young as 10 laboring to harvest tomatoes and other vegetables are prevalent, both in the U.S. agricultural industry and abroad.  Yet for the past five years, Wendy’s has turned its back on the one solution proven to end those abuses.  The Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program, a unique partnership among farmworkers, growers and major food retailers, has been able to eliminate those same human rights abuses for tens of thousands of farmworkers in the U.S, and has won universal recognition for its unique success, including a Presidential Medal in 2015.  Fourteen of the world’s largest corporations – including all of Wendy’s major competitors, like Burger King and McDonald’s, as well as Whole Foods and other supermarkets – have already signed onto the Program, committing to use their market power to ensure that farmworkers are treated with dignity and respect.

Wendy’s, on the other hand, has gone out of its way to avoid purchasing from Fair Food Program farms, abandoning Fair Food growers in Florida and instead bouncing from the Mexican agricultural industry to the emerging U.S. greenhouse industry, apparently unconcerned by the conditions of abuse that continue, each day, to plague farmworkers beyond the Fair Food Program.  Wendy’s has long attempted to hide behind a toothless Supplier Code of Conduct and a superficial auditing scheme – a strategy that experts in the field of social responsibility have unequivocally declared a failure. But farmworkers and consumers are not fooled. Nothing less than the proven model of the Fair Food Program will be able to truly combat sexual assault, modern slavery and other human rights violations in Wendy’s supply chain.

In light of Wendy’s unconscionable refusal to follow its competitors’ lead and join the award-winning Fair Food Program, farmworkers and their allies are calling for these four universities to cut all business ties with Wendy’s.  President Folt of UNC Chapel Hill, President Drake of OSU, President Schlissel of UM, and President Fuchs of UF have an important decision to make.  As leaders of top U.S. academic institutions, they can choose to ignore their own covenants and remain on the wrong side of history.  Or they can seize this opportunity to show real leadership, breathe new life into their institutions’ stated values, and cut their relationship with Wendy’s until the fast-food giant honors farmworkers’ human rights in its supply chain.  

Farmworkers, community leaders, and their own students are waiting for their answers.

Beyond the values outlined in the University of Michigan’s mission statement that all four schools hold in common, each of these universities has its own story, its own particular angle when it comes this critical decision of what to do about Wendy’s.  In the weeks ahead, as we countdown to the launch of the 4 for Fair Food Tour, make sure to stay tuned for a “Tour Preview,” a series of posts taking a closer look at the particular context of this call to action on each campus community.  We’ll also be providing updates from the advance organizing teams at each school as they ramp up education and mobilization efforts for the big actions in March.

If you’re ready to take action right now to support the tour, here’s what you can do: