Wendy’s vs. Wendy’s…


… Or how Wendy’s own code of conduct demonstrates that the hamburger giant really doesn’t care about human rights in its supply chain.

Last week, in a post entitled “A Battle for the Soul of Social Responsibility,” we took a long look at Wendy’s new supplier code of conduct and its provisions on labor rights, and we reached this conclusion: “When it comes to human rights, it seems that voluntary compliance is just fine with Wendy’s.”  When you compare Wendy’s vague “expectations” for ethical behavior from its suppliers and equivocal approach to consequences for suppliers who fail to meet those expectations, Wendy’s new code — announced with much fanfare last month in obvious response to the escalation of the Campaign for Fair Food — simply doesn’t measure up to the Fair Food Program.  In fact, it’s not even close.

The Fair Food Program’s multiple, overlapping mechanisms for monitoring and enforcement, and in particular the worker leadership and intense focus on enforcement that are the hallmarks of the Program, stand in stark contrast to Wendy’s top-down, featherweight enforcement approach.  Indeed, it is fair to say that Wendy’s new code of conduct is, in the words of Wendy’s famous ad campaign from the 1980’s, all bun, no beef (please excuse the 1980’s video quality)…


But perhaps we are being a bit harsh in our conclusion.   If only we had some measure, some comparable issue in Wendy’s supply chain — one that differs only in so much as we can be sure, beyond doubt, that it truly matters to Wendy’s bottom line — against which we could evaluate Wendy’s code language and monitoring provisions for workers’ rights.  With such a comparison we might be able to reach a more nuanced appreciation of the true value afforded human rights in Wendy’s supply chain.

Food Safety vs. Fair Food in Wendy’s New Code of Conduct…

Well, it turns out we do have something to compare Wendy’s human rights standards against, and it comes straight out of Wendy’s selfsame new code.


As it happens, Wendy’s lays out its food safety standards for suppliers in the new code as well.  And we can be sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Wendy’s takes food safety quite seriously.  All we have to do is look at today’s headlines to see what kind of real and immediate financial impact a food safety crisis can have on a fast-food company’s bottom line.

So, with a comparable supply chain issue, about which we can be certain Wendy’s truly cares, what does the new code of conduct tell us?  It tells us that when Wendy’s really wants to eliminate a problem from its supply chain, it will employ strong language and rigorous mechanisms to do so.  And it tells us that Wendy’s uses that language and those mechanisms for food safety, but not for human rights.  In short, it tells us that while Wendy’s cares a lot about protecting food safety in its supply chain, the same cannot be said when it comes to protecting human rights.

A tale of the tape…

Here’s why we say that.  Underscoring the importance of food safety to their business, Wendy’s begins that section of its new code with these words:

Food Safety   Wendy’s understands that the safety of the foods served in our restaurants is our stock in trade – without confidence in our food, we lose trust. That trust extends to our Supplier community, and we hold our Suppliers to the food safety and quality assurance standards that are among the most stringent in the restaurant industry.

Here’s the corresponding paragraph from the human rights section of the code:

Human Rights and Labor Practices…   People are our most valuable asset. Collectively, it is the respect and dignity we hold for each individual and value we place on trusted relationships that enables our mutual success. To that end, we take all human rights and labor practices issues seriously and expect the same from our Suppliers.

Right from the top, Wendy’s uses significantly different language — “we hold our Suppliers” as opposed to “we… expect the same from our Suppliers,” for example — signaling to its suppliers a real difference in attitude when it comes to meeting the company’s food safety standards versus its labor standards.  And right from the top, Wendy’s stakes a claim to having food safety standards “that are among the most stringent in the restaurant industry,” a claim it — wisely — doesn’t dare to make about its standards when it comes to human rights (given its ongoing rejection of the Fair Food Program).  

The Alliance for Fair Food in Orlando -- headed up by the YAYAs -- takes a great big selfie at Tuesday's Wendy's protest in Orlando

Ok, but that’s all still at the level of atmospherics.  What does the comparison look like as you get deeper into the mechanics of the new code and its standards?

Here’s the preamble to Wendy’s list of obligations for suppliers hoping to meet the company’s food safety standards:

Our goal is to constantly exceed our customers’ expectations – every day and in every restaurant. Wendy’s continually monitors our food products and works hard to improve them. Wendy’s Suppliers are expected to provide the System with the specified quality products and ingredients at all times and must immediately report to Wendy’s any issues that could affect the safety or quality of our foods.

Suppliers are required to meet the extensive food safety and quality assurance guidelines set forth by both regulatory agencies and Wendy’s, and to demonstrate that they have rigorous food safety and quality management systems in place in all Wendy’s supply operations. Our expectation is that all foods for Wendy’s are produced, packaged, held and transported under conditions that assure a safe, quality product. To meet our customers’ demand for food safety and quality, Wendy’s and our Suppliers further agree to…

The code then goes on to list a series of specific requirements including, “Adhere to a strict food safety testing program,” and “Promptly retain any product suspected to be unsafe until a food safety review can be completed.”  The fundamental frame of these obligations is that of an agreement between Wendy’s and its suppliers.  That agreement requires Wendy’s suppliers to meet both government and company standards and to work constantly with Wendy’s to monitor food safety conditions in their operations.

But what does the relationship between Wendy’s and its suppliers look like when it comes to human rights?  What sort of standards are suppliers “required” to meet and monitored against?

Well… It’s impossible to know, really, because Wendy’s never uses the words “agree” or “require” or “monitor” when it comes to human rights.  In fact, it hardly uses any words at all.  Here’s the corresponding preamble to the company’s human rights and labor practices standards, short and sweet:

We expect all Suppliers to adhere to the following standards related to human rights and labor:

From there it’s pretty much the standard requirements already set out in law.  And you won’t find any “exceeding expectations,” or “Wendy’s continually monitors” style language either, just a lot of “Wendy’s expects” or “suppliers are expected” where you would think the words “require” or “are required” would appear.  As we concluded in our last post, wishful thinking, it seems, is Wendy’s principal, perhaps sole, strategy for compliance when it comes to human rights.


And here’s the kicker…

Ok, so maybe the language and standards for food safety are much stronger and stricter than they are for human rights, and maybe that means that Wendy’s truly cares about food safety and not so much about human rights.  Fine.  But what if food safety were the only aspect of Wendy’s supply chain that is treated so rigorously in the new code, with such strict language and monitoring mechanisms?  What if human rights were on par with every other area of supply chain management for Wendy’s except food safety? That might preserve the possibility that workers’ welfare isn’t just some marginal concern, right? 

Sure, except here’s how Wendy’s frames its animal welfare standards:

Audits   Wendy’s rigorous animal welfare auditing protocol for our Suppliers, which evaluates areas including, but not limited to, housing, transportation and processing, is a leader in the restaurant industry and is led by trained internal and external auditors. We began animal handling audits in the mid-1990s, and our on-farm auditing program has strengthened since that time to allow us to continue to affirm our Suppliers meet our high expectations for animal welfare.

Our beef, pork and chicken Suppliers are audited annually, and any who do not achieve a score of “excellent” will be audited at least twice each year to verify compliance. Audits are reviewed by external animal welfare experts as an added measure of assurance. Companies that are unable to maintain our strict guidelines face termination as approved Suppliers of Wendy’s.

Yep, animal rights are addressed every bit as rigorously as food safety, and both by comparison render the new code’s provisions on human rights aspirational, at best.  As if to underscore the point, notice what Wendy’s chose to include — and to omit — in this list of expectations for suppliers tucked in near the end of the food safety section:

Food Ingredients   Wendy’s knows that the best food comes from the best ingredients. We also know that consumers today have greater interest than ever before about what’s in their food, and we respond to that by providing customers with food sourced from safe, quality ingredients. Suppliers are expected to:

• Source ingredients and produce finished products that adhere to and comply with Wendy’s specifications;

• Demonstrate that ingredients were procured in a responsible way that is consistent with Wendy’s animal welfare standards;

• Provide accurate and timely ingredient statements, allergen declarations, and nutrition profiles consistent with our commitment to transparency; and

• Ensure ingredients are safe and of the specified quality.

If you read quickly, you might have missed the second bullet, the one that discusses responsible procurement.  Yep, right there for all the world to see is Wendy’s statement that responsible procurement specifically includes animal rights, but not human rights. And that explains all one needs to know about why Wendy’s is the only major fast food chain not in the Fair Food Program.  

A sin of omission is still a sin.  And in this case, this particular omission leaves little room for doubt that, for Wendy’s, protecting human rights in the supply chain is, at best, an afterthought.