Ahead of Passover, Jewish community turns spotlight on Wendy’s for turning its back on human rights!

Jewish leaders from T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights leading a June 2014 action outside of the office of Wendy's Board Chairman Nelson Peltz
Jewish leaders from T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights leading a June 2014 action outside of the office of Wendy’s Board Chairman Nelson Peltz

“We must not ignore workers’ quest for dignity, rights and freedom…”

Today, across the country and around the world, Jewish communities begin the celebration of Passover, an important moment each year to reflect on the passage from slavery to freedom, both millennia ago and today.  In the Fair Food Nation, the traditional items of the Seder that ground these reflections — among others, bitter herbs (symbolizing the bitterness of slavery) and salt water (tears shed during enslavement) — have in recent years been joined by a tomato, symbolizing farmworkers’ path to freedom in the fields today through the Fair Food Program.


This year, Passover falls within the Month of Outrage against Wendy’s, and many members of the Jewish community have taken the opportunity to reflect on freedom and justice not only at the dinner table, but also in the public square, calling on Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program — and calling on their fellow consumers to join the boycott of the fast food giant.  In that spirit, we want to share two exceptional opinion pieces with you today, both penned by the tireless “Tomato Rabbis” of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.

First up, rabbinical students Mimi Micner and Salem Pearce published a powerful call to action in the buzzing online media hub, The Huffington Post, entitled “Wendy’s Serves the Bread of Affliction,” tracing the march through Egypt towards freedom all the way to farmworkers’ unforgettable march through the streets of Manhattan last month:


This week Jews all over the world will celebrate Passover with seders, the ritual meals that retell the Biblical story of the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. At the beginning of this retelling in the seder, the leader takes up the matzah, the unleavened bread, and says, “This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in Egypt.” In this moment, the matzah recalls the oppression of slavery. Later in the seder, though, we are told that the matzah commemorates the hasty way in which we left Egypt, with no time for the dough to rise as usual. In this moment, the matzah represents redemption from slavery.

How does the matzah symbolize both oppression and freedom? A clue is given in the ritual that happens just before the leader declares, “This is the bread of affliction”: The matzah is broken in half. Dividing the matzah is a concrete demonstration of the dual themes of slavery and liberation that it symbolizes. And between the transformation of the matzah from the bread of affliction to the bread of redemption is the retelling of the story of Passover. We remember our march out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom.

Throughout history, since that epic march out of Egypt, there have been many marches towards freedom. In that tradition, last month we joined the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) at a march in New York City. The CIW is a worker-based human rights organization, built on a foundation of farmworker community organizing. We have both visited Immokalee, home of the CIW, with T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, which brings together rabbis and cantors to act on the Jewish imperative to respect and advance the human rights of all people. For several years T’ruah rabbis and rabbinical students been inspired to work in solidarity with the courageous, committed farmworkers of the CIW. […]

Rabbi from T'ruah:  The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights sounding the call for action in front of Wendy's Board Chairman Nelson Peltz's offices in July 2014
Rabbi from T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights sounding the traditional shofar in a call for action in front of Wendy’s Board Chairman Nelson.

[…]  While all of Wendy’s major competitors in the fast-food industry — McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Taco Bell, and Chipotle — have already joined the Fair Food Program, Wendy’s has refused, choosing their public image over supporting human rights. Instead of joining the Fair Food Program and its widely-acclaimed, uniquely successful worker-driven model of social responsibility, Wendy’s released their own code of conduct this past January. It contains no serious mechanisms for worker participation or enforcement, effectively guaranteeing that it will fail to protect workers from the indignity they experience. But they have gone even further in their refusal to ensure human dignity for workers: Wendy’s has shifted its purchases from Florida to Mexico. Rather than support U.S. growers, setting new standards for human rights in the agricultural industry, Wendy’s took its tomato purchases to a country with a horrible human rights record.

Despite being the target of a three-year consumer campaign and a year-long national student boycott, Wendy’s has steadfastly refused to join the Fair Food Program, continuing instead to benefit from worker poverty. The CIW was left with no choice but to launch a national boycott of Wendy’s and continue the fight for human dignity. T’ruah was one of the first national faith groups to endorse the boycott, and, as members of T’ruah, we both were proud to march with the CIW last month as it announced the boycott and continued to pressure the board chair of Wendy’s, Nelson Peltz, to bring the company onto the Fair Food Program.

At our seders this year, we will have before us two pieces of one broken matzah. One represents the bread of our affliction in Egypt; the other represents the bread of our freedom as we leave our enslavement. As long as Wendy’s continues to serve the bread of affliction, join us in refusing to eat it.

Also last week, Tomato Rabbi extraordinaire, Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, drew on her inspiration not only from the CIW’s recent march through New York City in 2016, but also from the 200-mile March for Rights, Respect and Fair Food of 2013.  In honor of Passover, Rabbi Kahn-Troster composed an inspiring reflection on being a part of the fight for Fair Food titled “Slavery, Then And Now” for New York’s The Jewish Week.   Here are some of the highlights:


The seder can be a reminder that the practice did not end 3,000 years ago.

A few years ago, in the weeks leading up to Pesach, my 5-year-old daughter and I joined the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in Florida for part of its annual massive mobilization in support of its Campaign for Fair Food. The action was a 150-mile March for Fair Food from Fort Myers to Lakeland, where Publix, a Fair Food holdout, is based.

Truah_Rabbi_7718_smOver two weeks, hundreds of activists joined with farmworkers in solidarity with the groundbreaking worker campaign that, through the implementation of CIW’s Fair Food Program, has transformed the Florida tomato industry from “ground zero” for human trafficking in this country to one of the best workplaces in American agriculture. The farmworkers have found allies in consumer activists, university students, and people of faith who are determined to hold grocery stores and fast food chains accountable for the values the businesses claim to profess.

Liora and I were there in 2013 to lend the support of the Jewish community.

Human rights — and difficult issues like modern-day slavery — might seem difficult to explain to children; they are not if you break them down to the values behind the call of the crowd for “Justice for Farmworkers.”

Liora, in first grade, understood why we were marching: the farmworkers, primarily from Mexico and Guatemala, needed to be paid more, they deserved to be treated with fairness and respect, and everyone deserved to be free from slavery.

One morning, with the sun rising, we were sitting on a school bus — a banner with the words “No more slavery in the fields” along its side — waiting for the marching to begin. Liora turned to me and asked to practice the Four Questions, which she would recite soon at our family’s seder.

In that moment, I felt the past and the present come together.

Listening to her chant in Hebrew, mah mishtanah halayla hazeh mikol halaylot, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” I understood the power of the commitment we make each year as Jews to telling the story of freedom.

At the beginning of the seder, the Wicked Child asks, “What does all of this mean to you?” Mah ha’avodah hazot lachem?

For a rabbi whose core work involves fighting modern-day slavery, this is more than a theoretical question. It is not enough to talk about once having been slaves. The first step: we must raise awareness about modern-day slavery.

At T’ruah, we teach the lesson that the seder’s emphasis on redemption, the process of becoming a free people, creates a model that we can apply to our own activism today.

While slavery is illegal in most countries, forced labor is found everywhere, including in the U.S. and Israel. The International Labor Organization conservatively estimates that 22 million people across the globe are in situations of forced labor; other organizations place the number at closer to 27 to 30 million. Forced labor is found in all industries: farm work, domestic work, hotels, restaurants, factories, county fairs, forced sex work, magazine-selling crews, and more. Poverty and increased migration are major drivers of the increase in human trafficking.

From the New York Times' searing exposé on brutal conditions in the Thai fishing industry.
From the New York Times’ searing exposé on brutal conditions and modern-day slavery in the Thai fishing industry.

Our obligation is to support efforts to rebuild lives and resolve the root causes of human trafficking. This includes donating or volunteering with shelters that support trafficking victims, advocating politically to strengthen wage and safety laws that protect workers, and changing immigration laws regarding recruitment of foreign labor that leave temporary workers vulnerable to exploitation.

As consumers, most of us unknowingly benefit from slave labor. Products we buy every day, such as chocolate, cotton, or iron, have forced labor in their supply chains. There is often no way to know this about specific products directly, because companies are not required to audit their supply chains or take corrective action when slavery is found. Through legislation and worker-led campaigns, we must hold companies accountable for human rights violations in their supply chains, using the Fair Food Program as the best model for what a worker-designed solution can accomplish.

We must say “Dayeinu,” enough. It is not the tomato or the chocolate or the cotton that is created b’tzelem elohim, in the image of God, but the worker who produced it, and this Pesach, we must not ignore their quest for dignity, rights and freedom. […]

[…]  At our seder, we will give thanks for the many courageous people who are working for freedom in our time.

My younger daughter Aliza will be the one singing the Mah Nishtanah at the seder this year. She and I recently marched in a CIW action in New York, and I have heard from her teachers that she is teaching her kindergarten class about justice for farmworkers.

The Jewish commitment to a world without slavery continues. 

Make sure to keep an eye out for more updates in the fight for Fair Food — and in the Wendy’s boycott — in the weeks to come!