Comments by Coalition of Immokalee Workers Co-Director Lucas Benitez at Press Conference, Announcing Settlement of the CIW’s Taco Bell Boycott

Thank you, Jonathan. My name is Lucas Benitez, and I am a Co-Director of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. I’d like to begin by thanking everyone for coming, and to thank Jonathan Blum and everyone else here at Yum and Taco Bell whose hard work has helped make today possible.

Today, we have some good news to share: Today, Taco Bell has agreed to work with us to address the wages and working conditions of farmworkers in the Florida tomato industry. And so, today, we are ending our boycott of Taco Bell.

And today’s message is simple: Taco Bell and the CIW — one a fast-food giant and the other a farmworker organization — are indeed part of the same industry. The food industry in this country is rooted in communities like mine, Immokalee, where every season thousands of farmworkers arrive to pick the tomatoes that end up, just a few days later, on tables across the country. Many of those tables are found in Taco Bell restaurants, from Florida to California. It is that connection, from the field to the table, that makes us members of the same industry, and it is that connection that is, finally, recognized in this agreement today.

Not much more can be said about the conditions in Florida’s tomato fields that hasn’t been said already. Wages are extremely low, working conditions can be brutal — Florida’s fields have seen some of the most shameful extremes of exploitation that this country has known, both decades ago and still today. My community is one of the poorest communities in the country, and our sacrifices have helped make Florida’s tomatoes some of the least expensive, highest quality tomatoes on the market today.

But with this agreement, we are laying the groundwork for real change, both in the concrete conditions of farmworkers’ everyday lives and in the market itself, where this agreement is establishing important new standards of social responsibility. With the penny more per pound, Taco Bell has recognized that it can – and should – help improve the wages of the men and women who pick their tomatoes. And with the strict new additions to its Code of Conduct, Yum and Taco Bell are making the working conditions in the fields where we labor their business.

But the real significance of this agreement lies in the promise it holds for much greater change in the future. As Jonathan himself has so eloquently put it, human rights are universal, and if we as farmworkers are to one day indeed enjoy equal rights, the same rights all other workers in this country are guaranteed, this agreement must only be a beginning. To make those rights truly universal, other leaders of the fast-food industry and the supermarket industry must join us on this path toward social responsibility. With a broad coalition of industry leaders committed to these principles, we can finally dream of a day when Florida’s farmworkers will enjoy the kind of wages and working conditions we deserve. And when that day comes, the restaurants and markets of this country will truly be able to stand behind their food, from the fields to America’s tables.

So, today, we call on those food industry leaders to rise to this challenge and to follow Taco Bell’s leadership. And today we call on our supporters across the country to end their boycott of Taco Bell.