National boycott takes center stage at Wendy’s annual shareholder meeting!


Consumers to Wendy’s leadership, shareholders: “It is time for Wendy’s to commit to justice and human rights — to choose meaningful and verifiable rights protections for the workers who pick your tomatoes, rather than continue to uphold a meaningless code of conduct that allows slavery to flourish…”

Last Thursday, the Fair Food Nation descended on Dublin, Ohio, the small midwestern town with a dubious claim to fame: Dublin is home to Wendy’s corporate headquarters, the nerve center of one of the world’s largest hamburger chains and the last fast-food holdout from the Fair Food Program.  Last week, Wendy’s held its annual shareholder meeting in Dublin, and farmworker leaders from Florida were joined there by scores of students, people of faith, and community leaders for the first shareholder meeting since the declaration of the national Wendy’s boycott this past March 5th in New York City. 


Buoyed by a week’s worth of swelling national support for the boycott in the form of call-ins, a day of prayer, and a powerful letter from national faith leaders, the 80+ representatives of the Fair Food movement carried the call for farm labor justice to Wendy’s doorstep — and then straight into the heart of the shareholder meeting itself.


The action-packed week was filled with many, many great moments, the highlights of which we are pleased to be able to share with you below:

The lead-up: Phones ringing off the hook…

The rumblings of action started up early last week.  On the Monday before the shareholder meeting, hundreds upon hundreds of people of faith across the country answered the call for a national Day of Prayer — and along with each prayer, Fair Food supporters left countless messages for Wendy’s Board Chairman and key shareholder Nelson Peltz.  Support for the boycott within the faith community also swelled at the local level in Ohio, when 40+ Columbus-area clergy penned a letter to Wendy’s leadership declaring their intention to boycott the fast food chain until they joined the Fair Food Program.

The action didn’t stop there.  On Wednesday, just one day out from the shareholder meeting, hundreds of students, people of faith, and consumers of conscience picked up the phone to give incoming Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor a piece of their mind.  Down here at Fair Food headquarters, we received reports from around the country that the phones were ringing off the hook over at Wendy’s offices, and by midday receptionists were no longer taking messages, instead simply noting the names and states of callers.  By late in the afternoon, they had given up altogether.  Calls went straight to voicemail.

Riding this mighty wave of momentum, allies from cities around the Midwest – Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Ann Arbor, Nashville, and Louisville – climbed into cars on Wednesday night and began their journey to Dublin for the shareholder meeting the next morning.

The protest outside: “It’s time for Wendy’s to get on the train for Fair Food and join the Fair Food Program!”

Bright and early on Thursday morning, as shareholders began to enter Wendy’s Headquarters to hear about and vote on corporate initiatives, members of the CIW were joined by over 80 students, people of faith, and community allies from the Columbus area and across the Midwest for a lively protest.  


The high-spirited crew was made up of countless community organizations, students and religious institutions, united in their deep commitment to farm labor justice and worker-driven social responsibility: Ohio Fair Food, Nashville Fair Food, Presbyterian Mission Agency, the Presbyterian Hunger Program, Dignidad Obrera, Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ, the Cincinnati Interfaith Worker Center, SFA at the Ohio State University, SFA at the University of Michigan, SFA at Duquense University, First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, Columbus Mennonite Church, among too many others to mention.

In preparation to march from corporate headquarters to the Wendy’s flagship store, the crowd first gathered to share their reasons for coming from far and wide to support farmworkers outside of the fast-food giant’s corporate headquarters.  And there were enough inspiring stories and reflections to fill a book!  Here is one highlight from Tony de la Rosa, Interim Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (pictured below):


… Presbyterians throughout the country have been incredibly impressed with the strength, the fortitude, the savviness of this movement in [farmworkers’] marathon struggle to take control of their destiny and the demand for respect and fairness that all people should be afforded, but especially for farmworkers who pick our food, who nourish us with their labor. […]

[…]  We stand with the farmworkers and we call on you, Wendy’s, to heed our call for justice in your supply chain.  The Wendy’s boycott is necessary because Wendy’s has refused for many years to join the Fair Food Program and we believe as people of faith that it is a wrong refusal. Slavery in the fields, sexual harassment, other abuses and poverty wages, are simply unacceptable […]

[…]  The success of the Fair Food Program is bringing these things to an end, and their success is a cause for our celebration.  So now, it’s time for Wendy’s to get on the train for Fair Food and join the Fair Food Program!”

On that inspiring note, the demonstrators headed off in a colorful procession to the nearby Wendy’s flagship restaurant, chanting the whole way…




As the delegation (pictured below) arrived at the glass-encased Wendy’s, the CIW’s Lupe Gonzalo, a Tennessee State student, and a local family from Columbus attempted to speak with the manager of the store…


… but, all too predictably, the group was turned away at the door.

Returning to the sidewalk, Lupe addressed the waiting crowd with a few final words:


I tried to tell the manager that I was accompanied today by students and children who are the future of Wendy’s business — who are seeing how Wendy’s is rejecting us.  The truth is, Wendy’s is shutting the door on themselves and on the future, because consumers are taking note of how they are responding to the national boycott, and losing respect for Wendy’s.

With that, the protesters settled in to wait for the Fair Food delegation inside the shareholder meeting to emerge.

The delegation inside: “Mr. Penegor and Board Directors, will you choose to join the Fair Food Program and correct a legacy of injustice – or will you choose to see a boycott grow day by day outside of your stores?…”

Meanwhile, the delegation inside the shareholder meeting was preparing to face off with Wendy’s leadership.  After listening to many lofty speeches by company executives about Wendy’s Supplier Code of Conduct and founder Dave Thomas’s values, the CIW’s Silvia Perez took to the floor to address the gathered executives and shareholders alike:


“…Wendy’s moved its tomato purchases away from Florida, where workers’ human rights are protected, to source instead from Mexico, where human rights violations are systemic and go unchecked. Wendy’s told the growers it was leaving Florida specifically to avoid the Fair Food Program.  And where does it get its tomatoes now? A Harper’s Magazine piece recently revealed that Wendy’s buys its tomatoes from Bioparques de Occidente, a major grower in Mexico that was the subject of a massive slavery prosecution in 2013.

Therefore, this past March the CIW and thousands of consumers declared a national boycott of Wendy’s.  All of Wendy’s top competitors – McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, and Subway – have joined and are enforcing the Fair Food Program’s gold standard of human rights in their supply chains.

Given all of this, Wendy’s leadership is faced with a choice.  Mr. Penegor and Board Directors, will you choose to join the Fair Food Program and correct a legacy of injustice – or will you choose to see a boycott grow day by day outside of your stores?”

With all of the eyes of their shareholders upon them, Wendy’s representatives responded by confirming that the company no longer purchases from Florida.  They added, however, that Wendy’s does not purchase exclusively from Mexico, but also buys from California and eastern states.

That answer, unsurprisingly, was disingenuous on two levels.  First, Florida’s tomato season — which stretches from October to May — overlaps with Mexico’s season, not with that of California or the East Coast states, as both of those have summer seasons.  In other words, Florida purchases were shifted to Mexico, not to California or the East Coast.  Consequently, the fact that Wendy’s also buys from those areas cannot, in any way, explain or justify the company’s decision to abandon its longtime Florida suppliers after they implemented the Fair Food Program.  In short, the mention of those summer sourcing areas was little more than a cheap public relations trick, a diversion intended to confuse media representatives and shareholders, who cannot be expected to have a detailed understanding of the tomato market.  

But second, and most importantly, the answer is entirely non-responsive, even if those other states did share the same market window with Florida.  Question: How can Wendy’s justify shifting its purchases from Florida and the most widely-acclaimed social responsibility program in US agriculture to Mexico, where real social responsibility is at best a distant dream?  Answer:  We don’t just buy from Mexico, we also buy from other places, too, just as long as we don’t have to participate in the Fair Food Program.  Apparently, Wendy’s high standards can be met anywhere human rights go unprotected.

That was not all on the topic of fair food, however.  Amanda Ferguson (pictured below), a student at Ohio State University representing Wendy’s prized “youth market,” drew a clear line in the sand for Wendy’s leadership, describing student efforts to end OSU’s contract with Wendy’s:

Wendys_2016_Shareholder_Meeting_Ohio_2204“…In the fall, the renewal of the Wendy’s contract with the OSU Wexner Medical Center is conditioned upon the “satisfactory resolution of the concerns of the Student/Farmworker Alliance.  Our concerns are nowhere near met. Thus, unless your company joins the Fair Food Program you can expect that we will fight, tooth and nail, to remove Wendy’s from OSU. 

Support for Fair Food is stronger than ever; the millennial generation your company depends on will relentlessly fight and organize to boycott your restaurants regardless of how long it takes.  Mr. Penegor and Wendy’s leadership, will you uphold the Dave Thomas legacy of doing the right thing – or will you continue to ignore the demands of your target market until you see losses in business contracts?”

Wendy’s leadership responded that they feel they have adequately addressed students’ concerns with their Supplier Code of Conduct, but Amanda was not to be trifled with.  She answered the executives’ offering of the toothless Code of Conduct by reiterating, in no uncertain terms, that students’ concerns would be satisfied only when Wendy’s meets the standard set by its competitors and joins the Fair Food Program.

Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster (pictured below) of T’ruah was next to step up to the microphone:

Wendys_2016_Shareholder_Meeting_Ohio_2415“…T’ruah’s endorsement of the boycott is part of a massive and growing support within America’s faith community for the human rights of farmworkers. We are joined in our endorsement by the Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Unitarian Universalist Association, together with dozens of congregations representing millions of people of faith.

Yesterday, over 20 national faith leaders from diverse traditions representing millions across the country published a letter pledging to support the boycott, and right here in Columbus, more than 40 local faith leaders have written to you to endorse the boycott as well.  And our numbers will only grow as the boycott expands.

None of us wants a boycott.  We want Wendy’s to do the right thing, as its major competitors have done.  

It is time for Wendy’s to commit to justice and human rights — to choose meaningful and verifiable rights protections for the workers who pick your tomatoes, rather than continue to uphold a meaningless code of conduct that allows slavery to flourish in your supply chain.

On behalf of the CIW’s faith allies, I ask you:  When will you partner with the CIW and become part of this transformative model for human rights protections?  When will Wendy’s join the Fair Food Program?”

With that, the meeting was adjourned.  When the Fair Food delegates were reunited with the scores of protesters, they were welcomed with a warm outpouring of cheers and applause.  The play-by-play of the exchange between the delegation and the executives only served to reinforce the assembled allies’ commitment to keep organizing and building the Wendy’s Boycott until the fast-food giant comes to the table and finally joins the Fair Food Program.

Between the scores of Midwesterners protesting outside the shareholder meeting, and the team of delegates delivering a resounding message inside, it was abundantly clear that  Wendy’s currently finds itself in the crosshairs of a fast-growing national boycott.  The only questions that remain, as Rabbi Rachel so aptly pointed out, are when will Wendy’s sign a Fair Food Agreement, and how many more Wendy’s customers will have to learn of the company’s disturbing indifference to human rights in its supply chain before it does?