United Students Against Sweatshops Response to McDonald’s Partnership with “Socially Accountable Farm Employers”

United Students Against Sweatshops was appalled to hear McDonald’s announcement that it will partner with the Socially Accountable Farm Employers (SAFE) to redesign its supply chain program, instead of accepting the invitation of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to take actual proactive action. CIW’s demands are simple – that McDonald’s pay its tomato pickers a fair wage and work to establish a strong, enforceable code of conduct. McDonald’s recent attempt at sidestepping real action proves that while it may be a leader in sales, it is certainly not a leader when it comes to respecting the rights of the human beings who labor every day to keep its 30,000 restaurants stocked with food.

McDonald’s timely announcement of its partnership with SAFE can be seen as nothing more than an abdication of all responsibility for the workers throughout its supply chain. It would have behooved McDonald’s to do its homework prior to entering into this partnership. Corporate controlled monitoring programs have never worked and are deemed as completely illegitimate by everyone involved in the implementation of worker rights. The incentive of corporate-controlled monitors to continue to receive a pay check from the corporations they work for continually outweighs their incentive for uncovering and remediating worker rights abuses. In the nearly 10 years that United Students Against Sweatshops has been active, we have repeatedly proven that corporate monitoring does not work. Workers are the only ones who know what conditions are like day to day and what improvements need to be made.

McDonald’s assertion that SAFE is an independent monitoring agency is nothing short of laughable. The board of directors of SAFE is made up of two organizations — one a corporate controlled lobbying institution (the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association) and the other, a children’s service organization that receives significant funding from that industry-controlled lobbying agency (the Redlands Christian Migrant Association). The Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association has a staunchly anti-worker record, and it cannot be expected that this organization would head up an auditing agency that would be any different.

Even if one were to accept SAFE’s absurd assertion that its code of conduct and monitoring program were independent, its code of conduct remains woefully inadequate. SAFE’s code does not include provisions for the internationally recognized rights to freedom of association, the right to organize, overtime pay, or a living wage. Further, SAFE’s implementation program states simply that growers will commit to implementation of SAFE’s weak code of conduct – it makes no mention of any ascertainable enforcement mechanism.

Just as corporate controlled monitors are unacceptable in the garment industry, they are unacceptable in the agricultural industry. As Nike was once synonymous with sweatshops in factories, so will McDonalds soon become synonymous with sweatshops in the fields if they do not immediately halt their attempts to leave workers out of the process of upholding worker rights. McDonald’s must

  • Pay an increase per pound for the tomatoes McDonald’s purchases and ensure the increase is passed along to the workers who harvest, and
  • Establish an enforceable code of conduct to ensure safe working conditions

It is only through these actions and through immediate dialogue with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers can McDonald’s at all call itself a responsible employer or responsible purchaser as its website portends.