Signed, sealed, delivered! 300+ Jewish leaders endorse Wendy’s boycott in stinging letter to 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
Jewish leaders from T’ruah leading a June 2014 action outside of the office of Wendy’s Board Chairman Nelson Peltz

Jewish leaders to Wendy’s: “Better wages and human rights are non-negotiable ingredients of a just, sustainable food industry…”

Following the launch of the Wendy’s boycott in March, staunch Fair Food ally T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights — an organization that has been a leader in the Wendy’s campaign since its launch in 2013 — put out a call to its individual members to join the organization’s endorsement of the boycott.  

Unsurprisingly, the animated network of Jewish human rights leaders answered the call with a resounding Yes!  Since March, over 300 members of T’ruah — as well as scores of members of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis — have added their own names to the organization’s ringing endorsement of the Wendy’s boycott:

T’ruah Rabbis Support Justice for Farmworkers

Join us in endorsing the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ boycott of Wendy’s

The farmworkers of the CIW have launched a nation-wide boycott of Wendy’s in response to the fast-food chain’s failure to join the Fair Food Program–the only major fast-food chain who has not committed to the human rights of the farmworkers who pick its tomato.  Worse, Wendy’s has moved its tomato purchases to a Mexican tomato farm with well-documented human rights abuses, including forced labor.  

Wendy’s has chosen exploitation over solutions, and as Jewish human rights leaders, we find that choice morally appalling.  Join together with other rabbis, cantors, and rabbinical/cantorial students in a letter to Nelson Peltz, Wendy’s major shareholder, demanding that Wendy’s join the Fair Food Program.

But the religious leaders — many of whom are members of the growing cadre of “Tomato Rabbis” who have visited Immokalee and met with workers and growers to understand the Fair Food Program more deeply — didn’t stop with an endorsement.  T’ruah members also penned a letter directly to Wendy’s Board Chairman, Nelson Peltz.  You can read the full letter here, but for now, here are just a few highlights:


Dear Mr. Peltz,

We, the rabbis, cantors, rabbinical/cantorial students, and Jewish communal leaders named below, are writing to urge you to bring the Wendy’s Corporation to the negotiating table with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in order that Wendy’s join the Fair Food Program (FFP). In March, the CIW launched a national boycott of Wendy’s in response to Wendy’s decision to reject a proven human rights program that is preventing violence, wage theft, sexual assault, and slavery in the Florida tomato industry. The rabbis of T’ruah endorse the CIW’s boycott of Wendy’s. Better wages and human rights are non-negotiable ingredients of a just, sustainable food industry. […]

[…] The first principle enshrined in the very first chapter of the Torah teaches us that every human being is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God; therefore each person deserves to be treated with equal and infinite respect. As a result, we believe that corporate social responsibility must begin with a commitment to the human rights of workers, rather than merely a desire to assuage the guilt of consumers or protect the reputation of a brand.

The Jewish laws governing relationships between employers and workers mandate paying a fair wage and protecting workers from danger. The Fair Food Program enshrines those principles into enforceable rights for workers in the field, including more just wages, protections from wage theft, protections against sexual assault and harassment, prevention of slavery, and avenues for workers to report abuses without fear of reprisal.

Many of us have personally visited Immokalee and have seen first-hand how the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has transformed conditions for farmworkers through the Fair Food Program. The rabbis of T’ruah first reached out to you in honor of International Human Rights Day, 2013. We urged you then to sit down with CIW and learn directly how the Fair Food Program protects the rights of the workers who pick our food. We hoped then that Wendy’s would embrace its corporate values, and join the other major fast food chains in committing to the Fair Food Program. We are dismayed that, three years later, Wendy’s still has not joined the fourteen major corporations—including McDonald’s, Burger King, Yum Brands, Subway, and Walmart—that have recognized that the Fair Food Program is good for workers, good for consumers, and good for the company.

Disturbingly, Wendy’s has not only refused to sign the Fair Food Program, but has shifted all of its tomato purchases from Florida to Mexico. Specifically, as revealed in an excellent investigative piece from Harper’s Magazine in March, Wendy’s purchases its tomatoes from produce giant Bioparques, where hundreds of farmworkers were found being held in slavery just over two years ago.

Rather than reward Florida’s tomato workers and growers for working in partnership to transform an industry once called “ground zero” for human trafficking in America, Wendy’s tomato sourcing now benefits a produce industry whose widespread exploitation of workers and sub-poverty wages have been well documented. This decision to actively ignore human rights solutions in favor of exploitation constitutes chutzpah in its most extreme form. […]

[…] We hope that you will use your power as the chairman of the Wendy’s board to commit to joining the Fair Food Program. The farmworkers of Florida are achieving tzedek, justice, and not just seeking tzedakah, charity. It is time for Wendy’s to commit to justice as well.

After collecting hundreds of signatures affirming the letter’s powerful sentiments, a T’ruah delegation personally delivered the letter to the Park Ave offices of Nelson Peltz — the same offices where hundreds of Fair Food supporters marched last March during the launch of the boycott.  Here is the quick report, directly from the delegates themselves:

Today, we have more than 300 signatures on the letter to Wendy’s: rabbis, cantors, rabbinical students, and Jewish anti-trafficking leaders, among others.  In addition to seeing the outpouring of support from Jewish leaders across the country, we were thrilled to receive the endorsement of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, who have been staunch supporters of the Campaign for Fair Food since 2011.  On Monday, May 9, a small delegation of T’ruah rabbis went to 280 Park Avenue to deliver the letter to Mr. Peltz in person.

Rabbi delegation leaves letter at Trian Partners, the investment firm on Park Ave owned by Wendy’s Board Chairman Nelson Peltz

 Here are just a few reflections from those who went to represent the hundreds of Jewish leaders on the letter:

“There’s something incredibly powerful about a group of rabbis showing up at a corporate headquarters to deliver a letter of protest to a recalcitrant CEO who refuses to acknowledge his power to change the world for the good by acting on his responsibility to support human rights.  I’m glad I was able to take part!” — Hebrew Union College Professor Lisa Grant

Having visited the migrant workers in Immokalee, FL, it is hard to understand how Wendy’s can be so driven by profit and so lacking in compassion. I was proud to be part of T’ruah’s delegation to Wendy’s chairman of the Board to send a message about the need for justice up and down the food supply chain in America.” — Rabbi Sid Schwarz 

And that is just the beginning!  Stay tuned for more endorsements from across the Fair Food Nation, which are coming fast on the heels of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) and T’ruah endorsements…