CIW protest at Yum Brands shareholder meeting

CIW protest at Yum Brands shareholder meeting, Yum “offer to end boycott” cause quite a stir in Louisville, nationally!

Taco Bell boycott continues following Yum CEO’s public relations gambit…

Thursday, May 20th, started out as a fairly typical day in the Taco Bell boycott. Workers from Immokalee traveled to Louisville, KY, for an animated protest at Yum Brands’ annual shareholder meeting, building again the “Pyramid of Poverty” (left, 125 tomato picking buckets, representing the 2 tons of tomatoes workers must pick to earn minimum wage for a 10 hour day) as the centerpiece of a protest full of eye-catching banners and a jubilant spirit.

Across the country, over 1,600 people fasted in solidarity with the workers’ protest (right, fasting students at UCLA pass out flyers to fellow students, read article, “Protesters boycott Taco Bell with fast”).

Then suddenly, things took an interesting turn. Inside an otherwise formulaic and oddly uncompelling shareholders meeting, Yum Brands CEO David Novak made an unexpected announcement. “We’re ready to end this boycott, if you are,” he told Lucas Benitez of the CIW, along with the shareholders and the gathered press.

Sadly… it turns out that the “offer” (which Yum spent considerable energy publicizing following Thursday’s annual meeting, leaving little doubt as to the real purpose behind the move…) was not so interesting, nor so sincere, after all. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details.

In short, Yum’s CEO offered to work with the CIW toward an industry-wide surcharge of 1 penny per pound to be paid by all buyers of Florida tomatoes, and second, to help lobby Florida’s legislature for better working conditions. In return, he demanded that the CIW end the Taco Bell boycott immediately (i.e., in exchange for Yum’s willingness to work together, not for the actual achievement of any real change). For those of you who like to cut to the chase, here is the CIW’s formal answer to Yum’s “offer”:

“At the shareholders’ meeting, we asked David Novak to enter personally into meaningful talks to address farmworkers’ sub-poverty wages and sweatshop working conditions and to resolve the boycott. Apparently he prefers to negotiate through the press. So here’s our answer: As it stands right now, your offer is little more than a transparent public relations ploy — empty promises with no real commitment to change. When you’re ready to talk about real change for real people, we are ready, too.

It took your company three full years to finally acknowledge what the CIW has been saying all along: that farmworkers are indeed a part of your business, and that the workers who pick your tomatoes are indeed in need of real change in their wages and working conditions. But simply acknowledging what so many have said for so long is not enough. Your offer does nothing to actually improve those conditions and leaves farmworkers as poor as they’ve ever been, with nothing more than a vague hope for change. The boycott will only end when Yum is committed to taking concrete measures to improve labor conditions for tomato harvesters in its supply chain.”

For other reactions from across the nation, click on the following links:

* Statement from Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter
* Presbyterian Church USA’s reaction to Yum’s offer by clicking here
* Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights statement by clicking here
National Farmworker Ministry response by clicking here
* letter from the United Church of Christ to David Novak, Yum CEO

In this case, the old adage rings true: Yum, it’s time for you to put your money where your mouth is. Don’t just talk about a penny surcharge, pay the penny more to your Florida based tomato suppliers so that they can give farmworkers a long overdue raise in the picking piece rate. You can afford it. And don’t just talk about labor reforms, reform labor abuses in your own supply chain. You have the power.

Until then — until Yum actually commits a fraction of its considerable resources as the largest restaurant company in the world toward making these hollow promises real — the boycott continues!