Lucas Benitez, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, 239-503-0133
Julia Perkins, CIW, 239-986-0891
Marc Rodrigues, Student Farmworker Alliance, 239-292-3431


Petition delivery comes in wake of Senate hearing into labor abuse
and modern-day slavery in Florida tomato fields,
revelations of “dirty tricks” campaign tied to Burger King

MIAMI, FL – Saying they are “prepared to stop patronizing Burger King,” tens of thousands of consumers will make their voices heard at Burger King headquarters in Miami this coming Monday, April 28th, as a delegation of farmworkers and consumers delivers the initial results from a nationwide petition drive calling on the fast-food giant to join with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in combating modern-day slavery and sweatshop conditions in Florida’s tomato fields.

For the last two months, concerned consumers across the country have been collecting signatures for the CIW’s national petition drive, a drive modeled on the early abolitionist campaigns that helped hasten then end of the slave trade 200 years ago.   The petition campaign was launched following the December 2007 discovery of a brutal slavery operation in which farm bosses in Immokalee are accused of locking tomato pickers inside u-haul type trucks and beating workers who attempted to escape.  The latest case is the seventh slavery prosecution in Florida agriculture in the past decade.

The latest slavery prosecution also prompted an inquiry into farm labor conditions in Florida by several US senators, including Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).  Their inquiry resulted in last week’s hearing in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. 

Also last week, a report in the Ft. Myers News-Press tied Burger King to “libelous” anonymous attacks via email and online posts against the CIW.  The article also questioned whether the burger chain was behind a campaign of corporate espionage aimed at infiltrating the Student/Farmworker Alliance, a national student organizing network that coordinates closely with the CIW.

WHO: Tomato pickers from Immokalee, FL and consumer allies from Miami and across the country (CA, TX, KS, IL, PA, MD, DC, etc.)

WHAT: Delivery of tens of thousands of petitions collected by concerned consumers across the country

WHERE: In front of Burger King Headquarters, 5505 Blue Lagoon Drive, Miami, FL

WHEN: Monday, April 28 3:30pm

PHOTO OPS: Creative petitions to be delivered include an 8-story long banner signed by workers in Immokalee, piñatas, paper mache hamburgers, giant tomatoes, work shirts, and more.

BACKGROUND: In 2005, the world’s largest restaurant company, Yum Brands, signed an historic agreement with the CIW to directly improve wages for the workers who pick their tomatoes and to implement a code of conduct that included 100% transparency of their tomato supply chain and a zero tolerance policy for slavery. In 2007, McDonald’s, the world’s largest restaurant chain, followed suit.  The McDonald’s agreement included a commitment to collaborate in the development of an industry-wide code of conduct and a third party mechanism for monitoring conditions in the fields and investigating workers’ complaints of abuse.

Since 2005, the CIW has called upon Burger King to follow suit and to assist in the elimination of modern-day slavery and the exploitation of farmworkers in the Florida agricultural industry.  Instead, Burger King has joined forces with the Florida tomato growers’ lobby in resisting the positive changes established in the Yum Brands and McDonald’s agreements.

Florida’s farmworkers – including the workers who pick tomatoes for fast-food giants like Burger King — face sweatshop conditions every day in the fields, including:

  • sub-poverty wages (tomato pickers earn roughly $10,000/year, according to the USDOL);
  • no raise in nearly 30 years (pickers are paid virtually the same piece rate today as in 1980 – at the going rate, workers must pick more than 2.5 TONS of tomatoes just to earn minimum wage for a typical 10-hr day);
  • and the denial of fundamental labor rights (no right to overtime pay nor right to organize).  In 2001, the Department of Labor termed farmworkers “a labor force in significant economic distress.”

A federal indictment filed on January 17, 2008 charged six employers for their roles in a violent farm labor operation based in Immokalee, Florida. US Attorney Doug Molloy called the operation “slavery, plain and simple”.  The employers were charged with beating tomato picker, holding the workers in debt, and chaining and locking them inside u-haul trucks as punishment.  This latest slavery case was the seventh such prosecution to emerge from Florida’s fields in the past ten years.

Additional background can be found at