Religious leaders around the country call on Wendy’s: “Lead Wendy’s to be a part of the common good…”

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“We’ve witnessed the powerful partnerships between workers, growers and corporations, whose collaboration is transforming an industry once mired in slavery to one now founded on dignity and respect…”

The campaign to shepherd Wendy’s into the growing Fair Food movement continued to gain momentum this week with a strong push by religious leaders from across a spectrum of faith traditions.  This escalating pressure from religious leaders in the growing campaign comes on the heels of a colorful protest and compelling presentation by the CIW and its allies at Wendy’s annual shareholder meeting last week in Dublin, Ohio. 

Two weeks ago, a delegation of seven rabbis journeyed to Immokalee with T’ruah: the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights for T’ruah’s biannual pilgrimage to the heart of the Fair Food movement.  They came to learn first-hand of the unprecedented changes taking shape in the lives of Florida’s farmworkers, and in the very nature of Florida’s tomato industry. 

Immediately following the visit, delegation leader Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster took to the pages of the Huffington Post to turn the group’s days of reflection in Immokalee into action for Fair Food, publishing a letter from over 40 rabbis around the country to Wendy’s Board Chairman Nelson Peltz (in case you missed this important background on Peltz from the shareholder update, make sure to check it out…).  The letter was published to coincide with last week’s shareholder meeting in an effort to remind Mr. Peltz, in Rabbi Rachel’s words, that “participating in a widely recognized and proven solution to abuse is not only an opportunity for Wendy’s, it is a moral imperative.”  

Here below is her Huffington Post piece, entitled “Committing to Change and Justice at Wendy’s,” in its entirety:


Seven rabbis gathered in a Wendy’s restaurant in Southwest Florida and began to pray.

Last week, T’ruah: the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights hosted our sixth rabbinic delegation to the small town of Immokalee, FL. These rabbis who had flown in from around the country — from California to New York to Saskatchewan, Canada — came to stand with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers as they seek to strengthen and expand the Fair Food Program, their groundbreaking social accountability program ensuring never-seen-before protections for the human rights farmworkers. Lauded by the White House as “one of the most innovative and successful programs” to end modern slavery today, the unique collaboration between farmworkers, growers and food retailers changing the lives of some 100,000 workers has been joined by Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, as well as the largest fast food chains in the U.S. — all of them except Wendy’s.

So why not Wendy’s? Why not join a proven solution to abuse in your supply chain? That’s the question that T’ruah rabbis and others around the country have been asking over the past year. We asked it in person at the Wendy’s shareholder meeting in May 2013, with 15 rabbis present at a press conference outside the meeting with the CIW, Kerry Kennedy and other concerned consumers. We asked it with a private letter to Chairman Nelson Peltz in the fall of 2013, signed by rabbis who had participated in delegations to Immokalee, just like the group this week. When Mr. Peltz hadn’t responded by Human Rights Shabbat in early December, we took the letter public, and rabbis led actions in 15 cities across the country.  A month later, 150 rabbis nationwide asked the same question again to CEO Emil Brolick. Through all of our attempts, we heard only a resounding silence.

It has been exactly one year since we stood outside of the Wendy’s shareholder meetings and started seeking answers. This week, as Wendy’s holds its shareholder meeting in Dublin, OH, we republish our letter to Chairman Nelson Peltz and inform him that the chorus demanding human rights for farmworkers in Wendy’s supply chain has only gotten louder in the year past. Participating in a widely recognized and proven solution to abuse is not only an opportunity for Wendy’s, it is a moral imperative.

Dear Mr. Peltz,

We are writing to invite you to meet with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to learn how Wendy’s can join other leaders of the fast food industry in creating safe and fair conditions for workers in the Florida tomato industry by joining the Fair Food Program (FFP).

All of us have traveled to Immokalee, FL, where we have seen firsthand the tangible difference the Fair Food Program makes in the lives of the people who pick the food each of us eat every day. We’ve witnessed the powerful partnerships between workers, growers and corporations, whose collaboration is transforming an industry once mired in slavery to one now founded on dignity and respect. Back in our own communities, we have heard from our congregants and students how important it is to them that the tomatoes they eat are picked by people who are not at danger for slavery, sexual assault, wage theft, violence, or other forms of exploitation.

Wendy’s is a large buyer of Florida tomatoes. Given its market power, Wendy’s participation in the Fair Food Program is not an option but a moral obligation. Of the five largest fast food corporations in the country — McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King, Taco Bell (Yum! Brands), and Wendy’s — Wendy’s is the only one not participating in the Fair Food Program.

The Fair Food Program is a widely acclaimed corporate social accountability initiative forged in collaboration between workers, growers and retail buyers to ensure human rights for farmworkers within the supply chain. The program consists of a wage increase supported by a price premium paid by corporate purchasers of Florida tomatoes and a human-rights-based code of conduct applicable throughout the Florida tomato industry. Both aspects of the program are overseen by a third-party monitoring and investigative body, the Fair Foods Standards Council. This unique mechanism provides an opportunity for corporations to bring their own market influence to bear in order to help establish a structural solution to a human rights crisis that has persisted on U.S. soil for far too long. A White House report issued in 2013 cited the Fair Food Program as one of the most successful programs for ending the root causes of human trafficking.

As Jews and religious leaders, we believe that our faith calls on us to work for justice. The Torah insists that every human being is a creation in the image of God, who therefore deserves to be treated with dignity and honor. The Jewish laws governing relationships between employers and workers mandate paying a fair wage and protecting workers from danger. And our collective narrative of slavery and liberation obligates us to end slavery in our own time.

We ask you to sit down with the CIW to learn more about the Fair Food Program. If Wendy’s hopes to continue modernizing its image, it must first leave behind the old fashioned way of doing business that allows for slavery and other forms of exploitation.

We know that Wendy’s prides itself on its leadership in the fast food industry. By joining the Fair Food Program, Wendy’s can continue this tradition of leadership. Since CIW routinely applauds and showcases the corporations who are part of the Fair Food Program, this partnership will benefit both Wendy’s and the workers who pick your tomatoes.

Meanwhile, a second open letter, this one to Wendy’s CEO Emil Brolick, was also circulating the country, gathering nearly two dozen signatures from some of the most prominent religious leaders in the country demanding that Mr. Brolick recognize the “new paradigm” for human rights set by the Fair Food Program — a paradigm that Brolick himself helped to establish back in 2005 as the CEO of Taco Bell.  (Click here for a full list of signees, representing millions of people of faith across the U.S.!)  

Leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) not only signed the open letter, but added their own words on the PC(USA) website.  Here below are the statements by Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the PC(USA) General Assembly, and Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, followed by the full text of the open letter to Mr. Brolick:

Presbyterian_Church_Logo“The gains the CIW has achieved to bring safety, better pay, freedom from sexual abuse and dignity to the fields where our sisters and brothers harvest our food will only be permanent when all buyers agree to the standards of the Fair Food Program,” Parsons said. “Wendy’s should join Walmart and the others in the mighty flood of justice sweeping through the fields of Florida and beyond.”

Valentine stressed the church’s ongoing support.

“The CIW has created an inspiring model that brings together farmworkers, growers, corporations and consumers in common purpose to ensure human freedom and dignity,” she said. “The PC(USA) will continue to stand with the farmworkers and workers throughout the food chain until the day when all are afforded the rights and fairness they deserve.”


dub12Dear Mr. Brolick:

Nine years ago, as the CEO of Taco Bell, you pioneered a partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Florida growers that set in motion a new paradigm for human rights and corporate responsibility.

For three years, the Fair Food Program has been in operation in over ninety percent of Florida’s 650 million dollar industry and the changes have been as comprehensive as they are breathtaking.  While for generations the Florida tomato industry was plagued by poverty wages, wage theft, sexual harassment and, in extreme cases, forced labor, those abuses are now not only being eliminated, their root causes are being addressed through the Fair Food Program (FFP). The Program has been lauded by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights and the White House for its innovation, impact and sustainability, and has gained global recognition as the new paradigm for corporate social responsibility.

Twelve corporations have joined the Fair Food Program, agreeing to pay a penny-per-pound premium to their Florida tomato suppliers that is passed on to workers through the growers’ regular payroll process, and to purchase only from growers that uphold the Fair Food Code of Conduct. The largest global retailer, Wal-Mart, joined in January of this year and four out of five of our nation’s leading fast-food restaurants are already participating.

But not Wendy’s. Instead Wendy’s has tried to give consumers the impression that it supports the changes achieved through the FFP while in fact continuing to do business as usual.  By refusing to join its competitors in paying the penny-per-pound premium, Wendy’s gains an unconscionable cost advantage over the rest of the fast-food industry leaders. By refusing to commit to buy its Florida tomatoes only from growers complying with the Fair Food Program, Wendy’s perpetuates the old, “no questions asked” market for those growers unwilling to recognize the FFP’s human rights standards. 

We are perplexed and alarmed at Wendy’s posture on this issue of basic human rights. 

The call for society to recognize that our lives are intertwined, that our decisions and actions impact one another, and that we have a moral responsibility to ensure human well-being is as ancient as the command, “love thy neighbor.” 

The time is now to answer that call. Perfect what you pioneered nine years ago.  Lead Wendy’s to be part of the common good we are building together as consumers, farmworkers, growers and buyers by joining the Fair Food Program.  

 As Mr. Brolick is sure to remember from his days at the helm of Taco Bell during the four-year boycott that launched the Campaign Fair Food, when the leaders of major religious denominations take a united public stand to demand justice, it is just a matter of time before justice will be done.  The writing is on the wall.  It is now up to Mr. Brolick and Mr. Peltz to decide just how much more time must pass before Wendy’s steps out of the way of progress and steps up to help end generations of farmworker poverty and abuse.