“On Human Rights, Wendy’s Isn’t Old Fashioned — Just Outdated”

Protest outside Philadelphia Wendy’s, Huffington Post piece keep pressure building on final fast-food holdout…

From the Philadelphia City Paper (“A battle for Florida workers rights plays out at Wendy’s in Center City,” 6/4/13):

“Wendy’s is the last major fast-food chain that isn’t participating in a Fair Food agreement to protect the rights of Florida tomato farm workers — and, yesterday, Philly protesters took them to task for it. The Philly Campaign for Fair Food staged a rally in front of Wendy’s on Chestnut Street in Center City as part of a nationwide movement to improve the labor standards…” read more

The video above captures the sights and sounds of a spirited protest last week in Philadelphia, as did the short but sweet Philly City Paper article. But we had our own reporters on hand, of course, and here below is a first-hand dispatch from the Fair Food front in Philly for a few more details on the raucous action:

“The protest was organized as part of the Food Chain Workers Alliance conference, together with the Philadelphia Campaign for Fair Food. On Monday at 12pm, we headed to Philly’s Center City – just blocks away from City Hall – to join a solid group of local allies and interfaith supports for a lunchtime rally at the busy Wendy’s location.

Hundreds of pedestrians streamed by during the hour we held a roving picket, and in no time we had passed out the stacks of flyers we brought. The energy and animo was running as high as ever, and loud and energetic chants like “Your burgers might be square, but your food aint fair” and “What do we want? Justice from Wendy’s! When do we want it? Now, right now” resonated through the city canyons. Groups converged from all over the country, with representatives and worker members from the Food Chain Workers Alliance, CATA, Center for New Community, NW Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center, Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights, Unite Here, Warehouse Workers for Justice, ROC-NY and ROC-United, Vermont Campaign for Fair Food, Brandworkers International, Fair World Project, and the International Labor Rights Forum.”

At the same time protesters were making their voices heard in Philly, another voice — that of the widely-read author and activist for food justice, Raj Patel — was making itself heard in the virtual pages of the Huffington Post. In an excellent op/ed (the title of which we lifted to title this post), Raj effortlessly deconstructs every possible argument that Wendy’s could put forth to defend its rejection of the Fair Food Program:

“… Wendy’s might want to point to the other fast food companies, the number one and number two companies, for instance, and insist that it’ll cost Wendy’s too much to comply with decent treatment of farmworkers in their supply chain. Thing is, as Kerry Kennedy told the shareholders “The CIW has signed agreements with four of the five largest [fast] food corporations in America. All… except for Wendy’s.”

Wendy’s might want to claim that this whole thing is overblown. But, I’ll say it again, things had been so extremely bad that multiple instances of modern-day slavery have been prosecuted in Florida’s tomato fields in recent years.

Finally, Wendy’s might sniff that there’s nothing it can do, since it can’t police hundreds of suppliers directly. But in the words of a major Presidential Advisory Report released last month concerning human trafficking, the CIW’s Fair Food Program is “one of the most successful and innovative programs” in the country today for preventing forced labor…” read more

He then ends his argument with a devastating take on Wendy’s effort to re-brand itself in light its indefensible position on farm labor rights:

“… So here’s where the new Wendy’s looks very much like the old-fashioned Wendy’s. The company is ignoring a program that has demonstrably helped workers, which has been joined by the likes of McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King and Subway, and which has been embraced by people of all faiths, and recognized from the White House to the U.N. Working Group on Business and Human Rights as the way of the future.

It can have all the make-overs it wants, but without joining the Food Program, its claims are as empty as a fast food calorie, and its old-fashioned approach looks increasingly outdated.” read more

Raj’s piece is an echo of our own conclusions from Wendy’s recent shareholder meeting, where Wendy’s CEO Emil Brolick presented a compelling powerpoint outlining the company’s plans to sharpen its brand’s message as a means to build a stronger “emotional connection” to its customers. To wit: If Wendy’s is serious about building its brand’s emotional appeal, it’s going to have to clean up some unfinished business with farmworkers in Florida, first.