AFL-CIO President John Sweeney’s letter to YUM Brands!

American Federation of Labor and  Congress of Industrial Organizations

Jan. 23, 2004

Mr. James Dimon, Chairman and CEO
Bank One Corporation
1 Bank One Plaza
Chicago, IL 60670

Dear Mr. Dimon:

I am writing to you about an issue that is very troubling to me and to my constituents in the labor community. You and I are fellow board members of CASA, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, at Columbia University. I trust that your concern for the crucial social issues of addiction and substance abuse might indicate your willingness to consider social issues impacting Yum! Brands.

Specifically, I am hoping that you can use your position on the board of Yum! Brands to help bring about a positive outcome for the thousands of workers in South Florida who pick tomatoes that go into Taco Bell products. As you know, Taco Bell is part of Yum! Brands. The conditions faced by workers in Florida’s tomato fields, where Taco Bell buys a significant percentage of its tomatoes, can only be described as humiliating and inhumane. Workers are paid according to an antiquated piecework system, at a rate (40-50 cents for every 32-pound bucket they fill) that hasn’t changed in over two decades. At that rate, according to the US Department of Labor, workers’ wages come out well below the poverty level, with average pickers earning only $7,500-$10,000 a year. In addition, these workers have no right to overtime pay, nor do they have benefits of any kind — no health insurance, no sick leave or vacation time, and no pensions.

Worse yet, there have been six cases of modern-day slavery out of Florida in the past six years alone: workers held against their will and forced to work under threat — and even the use — of violence. Recent feature articles in the National Geographic and the New Yorker magazines have brought national attention to the shameful phenomenon of peonage in Florida’s fields.

You are probably aware of the campaign initiated several years ago by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to change these sweatshop conditions. The CIW has been joined in this effort by a number of religious and labor organizations, among them the National Council of Churches, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., and numerous Catholic archdioceses around the country, as well as national unions and labor councils like the United Postal Workers of America (UPWA) and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. And, just last November, the RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights presented its prestigious 2003 Human Rights Award to three members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for their efforts fighting modern-day slavery and their leadership of the Taco Bell campaign. I support the efforts of the Immokalee Workers to win justice in Florida’s fields.

Despite rapidly growing support for the CIW’s efforts — including 39 percent of Yum! Brands shareholders voting in favor of a resolution supporting the CIW’s campaign at Yum! Brands annual meeting last May — Yum! Brands spokespersons have repeatedly asserted that they have neither the power nor the responsibility to influence their suppliers’ behavior. Yet, on the issue of farm animal welfare in its supply chain, Yum! Brands has taken a very different position, stating on its website that, “As a major purchaser of food products, we have the opportunity, and responsibility, to influence the way animals are treated… As a consequence, we only deal with suppliers who maintain the very highest standards and share our commitment to animal welfare.”

Surely, human beings deserve the same commitment from Yum!

Thus, I am asking you, in your capacity as a member of the board of directors of Yum! Brands, to lobby for a new corporate policy that would ensure that farm workers earn a fair wage and labor in humane conditions. I am urging you to support the call for a three-part dialogue between Yum! Brands, the CIW, and Yum’s! tomato suppliers to end the abusive conditions in the fields, and for Yum! to pay at least one penny more per pound of tomatoes so that farm workers can earn a decent wage. For my part, I will be urging my constituents, the 13 million members of the AFL-CIO and their families, to boycott Taco Bell products until this issue is resolved.


John Sweeney