Follow the money? Yes, of course! But where, exactly?…

As Wendy’s largest shareholder, billion-dollar hedge fund Trian Partners plays an outsized role in the fast-food giant’s decision-making. Trian CEO Nelson Peltz is Wendy’s Board Chairman and head of the company’s Social Responsibility Board Committee, while leading Trian executives Peter May and Matthew Peltz also occupy key decision-making roles in Wendy’s inner circles. Trian Partners’ influence over the fast-food giant is unequaled, but they are hardly alone among Wall Street players that can make their voice heard — loud and clear — inside Wendy’s.

Well known investment giants BlackRock, Goldman Sachs, and Wells Fargo among top shareholders in Wendy’s universe… and key stops on the Follow the Money March!

Willie Sutton, the famous, oft-convicted bank robber of the early 20th century, was once asked why he continued to rob banks.

His reply? “Because that’s where the money is.”

While the motivation behind next month’s major mobilization in New York is certainly not the same as Willie Sutton’s, the rationale is.  We are marching on Trian Partners, and on several other key banks and investment funds behind the fast-food company Wendy’s, precisely because that’s where the money is.  

And, when it comes to decision-making at the billion dollar hamburger giant, it seems — more than any other company in the fast-food firmament — that’s where the power is, too. 

So today, we wanted to introduce you to some of the key actors in Wendy’s world, the massive investment firms and Wall Street players whose money gives them the loudest voices in the room when the big decisions are made — like when it’s time to decide whether or not to join the universally-acclaimed gold standard for social responsibility in agriculture today, the Fair Food Program.  We begin with Trian, the loudest of all the voices, but we don’t stop there, as we “Follow the Money” wherever it leads.

Trian Partners

Only Nelson Peltz and his partners at Trian truly know the full extent of the hedge fund billionaire’s influence over the hamburger giant, the final fast-food holdout from the Fair Food Program.  But one thing is clear: The outsized role of the “activist investor” Peltz and his partners within the decision-making structures at Wendy’s sets the company apart from its competitors in the fast-food industry.  In the words of Derek Seidman of the online journal Truthout:

Trian is the top owner of Wendy’s and dominates Wendy’s board of directors. Peltz is Wendy’s chairman, Trian President and Founding Partner Peter May is vice chairman, and Peltz’s son Matthew is a director. Others on the board also have close ties to Trian.

And when a shareholder as dominant as Trian insinuates itself into the corporate structure as deeply, and widely, as Trian has in Wendy’s, the decision-making process is necessarily altered, and not always for the best.  Indeed, despite nearly twenty years of the Campaign for Fair Food, ten years of the Fair Food Program, and four years of a growing consumer boycott, Wendy’s stands alone among fast-food industry leaders in refusing to join the award-winning social responsibility program.  It is only reasonable to conclude that the exceptional power of Trian Partners within Wendy’s is the reason.

Immokalee farmworkers, Fair Food allies outside the office of Wendy’s Board Chairman Nelson Peltz in New York City

This analysis has led us to Trian’s doorstep many a time over the past several years, most notably when 100 farmworkers and their consumer allies held a five-day fast on the sidewalk outside Trian’s Park Avenue offices.  Thus far, the voices of Immokalee farmworkers and hundreds of thousands of consumers across the country calling on Trian have not been enough, however, to move Wendy’s to do the right thing.

But Trian is not alone among key Wendy’s shareholders.  And Trian itself has other institutional investors that, as the hedge fund’s clients, are essential to its own profits, and power.  And so we follow the money to…


With 16.8 million shares, BlackRock is the third largest shareholder in Wendy’s.  And with a very public commitment to the “ESG” philosophy of investing, BlackRock is a natural place to turn for support when seeking to bring Wendy’s into the Fair Food fold.  Here’s how BlackRock defines its commitment to ESG on its website:

There is increasing awareness that material environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors can be tied to a company’s long-term performance. As such, more and more investors are looking to integrate sustainability insights and data into their traditional investment processes…  ESG data is most often categorised as “non-accounting” information because it captures components important for valuations that are not traditionally reported. The valuation of companies has become more complex, with a growing portion tied up in intangible assets. ESG metrics provide insights into these intangibles, such as brand value and reputation, by measuring decisions taken by company management that affect operational efficiency and future strategic directions.

When you strip all the jargon away, BlackRock is saying that social issues — including labor abuse in corporate supply chains — can have a meaningful impact on brand value and reputation, and must be taken into account when making investment decisions.  As the last of the fast-food giants to stand opposed to the social responsibility program widely credited with eliminating longstanding labor abuses in agriculture ranging from modern-day slavery to sexual harassment and assault, Wendy’s is assuming considerable reputational risk.  When combined with a growing consumer boycott enjoying significant celebrity support from high-profile leaders of the Time’s Up movement like Alyssa Milano and Amy Schumer, Wendy’s investors are facing not just risk, but real harm.

When marchers — including farmworker women and men who have received, among other things, a Presidential Medal and MacArthur “Genius” Award for their extraordinary leadership in corporate responsibility — show up outside BlackRock’s offices next month demanding that the investment firm put its money where its mouth is, BlackRock’s leaders would do well to listen.  

Goldman Sachs

With 2 million shares, Goldman Sachs only weighs in at 27th largest shareholder in Wendy’s, but… when you are called “the world’s most powerful investment bank” and likened to, “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money,” you tend to punch above your weight.

Goldman Sachs’ history of financial scandal is legendary, earning its very own wikipedia page.  Most recently, Goldman Sachs played a high profile — and much investigated — role in the financial crisis of 2007-2008, resulting in a settlement of $550 million in an SEC lawsuit.  But its record of controversy includes “an assortment of other misdeeds, including a general decline in ethical standards, working with dictatorial regimes, cozy relationships with the US federal government via a ‘revolving door‘ of former employees, insider trading by some of its traders, and driving up prices of commodities through futures speculation.”

With that sort of record, it’s time Goldman Sachs did something positive, for a change, something they, and their clients, can be proud of.

Wells Fargo

Also with 2 million shares, Wells Fargo comes in just behind Goldman Sachs as the 28th largest shareholder in Wendy’s.  But Wells Fargo is second to none when it comes to controversy, reaching a $3 billion — billion — settlement just last week with the U.S. government over abusive sales practices. 

Equally important, however, is the leverage Wells Fargo has vis-à-vis Trian itself, beyond its voice within Wendy’s.  The bank’s corporate pension plan is invested with Trian, and that investment means Wells Fargo has the power to demand better from Wendy’s and Trian when it comes to social responsibility.  

Next month in New York, we will be ending our three-day march on the doorstep of Trian Partners on Park Avenue, but we will be stopping at the offices of all three of these other major Wendy’s shareholders — BlackRock, Goldman Sachs, and Wells Fargo — along the way.  All of these companies bear a share of the responsibility for Wendy’s refusal to step up to the gold standard for human rights protections in its supply chain, and all of these companies will be visited by farmworkers and their allies in March demanding that they act responsibly and help bring Wendy’s into the 21st century.

Follow the Money with us from March 10-12 in New York City!

Here below is an interactive map of next month’s march route (and don’t forget to register if you haven’t already).  Check it out and join us two weeks from now when we Follow the Money all the way to victory in the Wendy’s Campaign!