Raj Patel, Frances Moore Lappé, and 75+ more food movement leaders speak out against Wendy’s!

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75+ food justice leaders describe 21st century food to Wendy’s for International Human Rights Day…

The Fair Food Nation was certainly busy this past International Human Rights Day, December 10th.  Last week we reported on the rabbis with T’ruah honoring the  “Human Rights Shabbat” with manager delegations to 15 Wendy’s retaurants around the country.   And we start this week with news of 78 prominent leaders in the food movement who chose International Human Rights Day to publish a hard-hitting letter to Wendy’s CEO Emil Brolick, letting Wendy’s know what it takes to be an ethical food company in the 21st century.

From celebrated writers like Raj Patel and Frances Moore Lappé to small farmers like John Peck from Family Farm Defenders, this remarkably broad group has united behind the CIW’s groundbreaking Fair Food Program, through which “an agricultural industry based on respect for human rights is becoming a reality.”  Wendy’s continued refusal to support the Program, in spite of its proven success in bringing human rights into the supply chain, is not only unconscionable — it is profoundly backward in a time when, according to the letter, “today’s consumers expect and demand that farmworkers, whose work makes possible Wendy’s continued growth, also constitute an integral part” of the company’s business model.

We wanted to share an extended excerpt from this thorough letter, which slices through every one of the thin arguments Wendy’s continues to hide behind (you can find the full version on Anna Lappé’s article, “Human Rights and a Burger Giant” Civil Eats, 12/10/13). Without further ado, here are excerpts from the letter:

Dear Mr. Brolick,

As food writers, chefs, small and family farmers, sustainable businesses leaders, anti-hunger groups, and food justice advocates, we are writing to express our grave disappointment that Wendy’s has thus far refused to join the most far-reaching, successful, and comprehensive program for social responsibility in the US produce industry: The Fair Food Program.

Ben Burkett, President of the Family Farm Coalition
Ben Burkett, President of the Family Farm Coalition

When Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas opened the first Wendy’s store, he outlined values that would anchor the Wendy’s brand, such as “Do The Right Thing,” “Treat People with Respect,” and “Give Something Back.” Today, the eyes of the growing food movement turn toward you to ask that you uphold these guiding values upon which Wendy’s has built its image. […]

[…] By refusing to put its weight behind this program, Wendy’s is lagging behind its competitors as the only major fast food corporation in the US that has yet to become part of this proven approach to a more sustainable supply chain. What’s more, when you, Mr. Brolick, helmed Taco Bell in 2005 as the company became the first Fair Food Program signatory, you stated at the time of the announcement, “We have indicated that any solution must be industry-wide… but we are willing to play a leadership role within our industry to be part of the solution. We hope others in the restaurant industry and supermarket retail trade will follow our leadership.” Now, eight years later, Wendy’s is “the rest of the industry” that needs to join the Program.

Food justice leaders delegation visiting Immokalee
Food justice leaders visiting Immokalee

Until now, however, Wendy’s has publicly stated that it already pays a premium for its Florida tomato purchases and only buys from growers within the Fair Food Program. Such misleading statements do a disservice to Wendy’s brand and reputation.  As you well know, whatever premium Wendy’s may pay, it is unrelated to the Fair Food Program and does nothing to raise farmworkers’ wages. Moreover, the Fair Food Program works because it has teeth: Retailers commit to supporting farms that uphold a necessary set of labor standards and suspend their purchases from farms that are unwilling to comply. Only by joining its competitors in making that commitment can Wendy’s assure its customers that it is doing its part to ensure that farmworkers who pick its tomatoes are treated with dignity and respect.

Wendy’s promotes its sourcing of “honest ingredients” and its sustainable business practices, to which we as food justice advocates are also dedicated. But you must understand that today’s consumers expect and demand that farmworkers, whose work makes possible Wendy’s continued growth, also constitute an integral part of that vision. To portray your company as taking the necessary steps to uphold farmworker rights while doing no such thing–when a proven and verifiable solution exists–can only be described as disingenuous.

As Wendy’s looks to modernize its brand to position itself as “a cut above” their fast-food counterparts, it must understand that a new logo is insufficient to transform an old-fashioned approach to human rights.  Only a true commitment to just treatment of workers in your supply chain can assure Wendy’s of smooth sailing in the 21st Century. We within the food justice movement urge you to seize this moment as an opportunity to uphold those values and act immediately to join with the CIW and the Florida tomato industry in building a better tomorrow.

With that, these leading figures at the heart of the food movement have laid out an irrefutable argument for Wendy’s to join the growing movement for Fair Food, and the broader movement for food justice in the 21st century. The letter is still open, so if any food movement groups out there missed it the first time around, write Jake at jake (at) justharvestusa.org and he’ll be sure to add your name.  

Stay tuned for more from the Wendy’s front, as the big flagship Wendy’s restaurant is opening this week in Dublin, Ohio, and Ohio Fair Food will be there to let company executives know that the world wants Fair Food that respects human rights, not fast-food that exploits human beings!

The next generation weighs in at the Wild Goose Festival
The next generation weighs in at this summer’s Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina