Press Release: Members of Congress Join CIW in Campaign to End Modern-Day Slavery


For Immediate Release: March 11th, 2008
Contact: Jeffrey Buchanan 202-463-7575 ext 241

Members of Congress Join CIW in Campaign
to End Modern Day Slavery and Sweatshops in America’s Fields

Members of Congress — including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) — and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney to join in signing petition demanding Burger King partner with Florida’s farmworkers to support human rights and eliminate modern-day slavery.

Washington D.C. – On the heels of the 200th anniversary of legislation banning the transatlantic slave trade in the U.S., members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights (RFK Center) Director Monika Kalra Varma will join farmworkers from the (CIW) in a ceremony outside the U.S. Capitol to kick-off a national petition drive to support human rights and eliminate modern-day slavery in America’s produce fields.

The petition demands that Burger King and food industry leaders work with the CIW to improve the wages and conditions for the workers who pick their tomatoes, and join an industry-wide effort to eliminate modern-day slavery and human rights abuses from Florida’s fields. Members of Congress, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), and supporters will publicly sign the petition.

The event will take place at 10:30 am Thursday, March 13th in the Senate Swamp, near Constitution Ave and Delaware Ave NE across from the Russell SOB. Supporters can learn more about the petition drive at

“In the tradition of the abolitionist movement, where legislators, consumers and workers joining to demand sugar free from the scourge of slavery helped bring an end to the slave trade, this petition marks the strength of a growing alliance in the U.S. demanding Fair Food and an end to slavery in its modern-day form,” says Lucas Benitez, member of the CIW and winner of the 2003 RFK Human Rights Award. “Both in Washington today and across the nation, the struggle against the existence of humiliating and often brutal forms of forced labor in America’s produce fields may no longer be ignored.”

“When members of Congress passed the Slave Trade Act of 1808, certainly none would have believed 200 years later that slavery would still exist in the United States of America,” said Monika Kalra Varma, Director of RFK Center. “Generations later it is only right that this effort we stand in front of the Capitol, a building built with the help of slave labor, with Members of Congress, farmworkers and their supporters to acknowledge our shared obligations to work to end slavery and rights abuses in this country and to demand the mass consumers of Florida’s produce, like Burger King, partner with workers to realize these goals.”

Signatories pledge to demand Burger King provide for a pay raise of a penny per pound of tomatoes picked and protect against human rights abuses through a strict code of conduct in their supply chains. The petitions states that those who sign are “prepared to stop patronizing Burger King now, and other food industry leaders in the future, should they fail to do so.” The ceremony kicks-off a nationwide campaign for the CIW and its allies, including RFK Center, the Student Farmworker Alliance and other members of the Alliance for Fair Food, who will be working in their communities over the coming months to gather signatures in support of the farmworkers’ human rights.

Robert F. Kennedy Memorial