Unbound, national Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) online journal, amplifies call for Wendy’s Boycott…

Tony de la Rosa, Interim Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, speaking to crowds at last month's massive protest in front of the Wendy's shareholder meeting
Tony de la Rosa, Interim Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, speaking to crowds at last month’s massive protest in front of the Wendy’s shareholder meeting

“The church standing with us… is essential if we are to stop Wendy’s from profiting off of worker exploitation and to strengthen the human rights advances we have secured through the Fair Food Program…”

It has been almost a month since the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) stood up to become the first major religious body to endorse the Wendy’s boycott — a precedent-setting move that to led to several other influential national bodies of faith to follow in its footsteps.  As anyone familiar with the Church’s long and vibrant history of working for social justice would know, PC (USA)’s endorsement was simply a beginning, not the concluding chapter, of its commitment to seeing the Wendy’s boycott through to a successful conclusion.  

Just last week, the Church published the most recent issue of Unbound, which, in their own words, is “both a journal and a forum for conversation, action and community building,” and is the inheritor of the legacy of the Church’s 98-year-old journal, Church & Society.  In keeping with its mission of providing a forum for thoughtful analysis on a wide range of subjects, from topics such as violence in the Middle East to racial justice in the U.S., the journal invited CIW’s own Gerardo Reyes Chavez to pen a reflection on the Church’s history in the Fair Food Movement, and the on significance of its most recent decision to endorse the Wendy’s boycott.

Here are just a few highlights from the article, entitled “The Boycott of Wendy’s and Advocating Together for a Proven Model to End Exploitation in Supply Chains.”  It is well worth the read, so make sure to head over to Unbound for the full narrative.  Enjoy!


The Boycott of Wendy’s and Advocating Together for a Proven Model to End Exploitation in Supply Chains

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers received with joy, but without surprise, the news that the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board voted the church’s support for the Boycott of Wendys. I say without surprise because for as long as I can remember – indeed from the very inception of the CIW back in the early 1990s – the PC(USA) has been walking with us in all that we do, bringing the church’s power and hope to bear. The church standing with us, spreading the word about the boycott high and low and advocating strongly, is essential if we are to stop Wendy’s from profiting off of worker exploitation and to strengthen the human rights advances we have secured through the Fair Food Program. […]

[…] Things that we dreamed of when the CIW was only a local Immokalee organization 20 years ago are coming true – along things that we never could have imagined. Because of the agreement with Walmart, protections are now being extended to workers in six states north of Florida. For the first time, the Fair Food Program is expanding into Florida strawberries and peppers.

CIW Worker Scott RobertsonHowever, when men and women go to work outside of the Fair Food Program, they face the same abuses we once faced. Workers have families, and in order to support them, the majority of farmworkers have their dignity stripped from them every day. Poverty wages put farmworkers in a position of desperation and fear. Factors beyond their control – getting sick, a freeze, etc. – can put them in a position where they are unable to feed their families. They are subject to many abuses, including sexual assault, wage theft, violence, and in extreme cases, forced labor.

And those fruits and vegetables, harvested by workers who are exploited and sometimes even enslaved, are still making it to the table of every person in this country. When people gather to give thanks for the food on the table, there is something missing from that prayer: the assurance that farmworkers are not being brutalized while producing the food. We still have much work to do.

We need to get more corporations into the Fair Food Program. We need to bring Wendy’s, Kroger, and Publix into the Program, even as we extend the Program’s reach to other states and crops.

Why Boycott Wendy’s?

And so we come to Wendy’s. For over ten years, we have invited Wendy’s to the table to talk about eliminating abuses in its supply chain. Over the years, they have witnessed the suffering of farmworkers, but also everything that has been changing in the industry from which they source their tomatoes due to the Fair Food Program.

CIW Wendy's BoycottInstead of supporting that change, Wendy’s turned its back on its own Florida tomato suppliers who were implementing these changes and moved its purchases to Mexico, where there are well-documented abuses of farmworkers, including slavery – in one case, involving close to 300 workers (See “Trump’s Tomatoes” and this LA Times article from 2014). This is the kind of business that Wendy’s has chosen to support because of their thirst for cheaper produce and their inability to embrace the responsibility they have to the workers that they have taken advantage of for decades in Florida. That’s why we’ve called for a consumer boycott of Wendy’s.

As a distraction, Wendy’s has been talking a lot about their new Supplier Code of Conduct, which purports to address to their supply chain practices. In reality, Wendy’s Code of Conduct is nothing more than a generic code of conduct that corporations embrace precisely to escape their responsibility. It says that they expect their suppliers to abide by all applicable laws, but this means nothing if there’s no enforcement and if workers are unable to voice complaints about the conditions they face. This Code of Conduct is a direct insult to the dignity of the workers who are seeking justice in the fields – and to the intelligence of people of conscience.

CIW Wendy's BoycottIt is particularly insulting that Wendy’s came out with this Code of Conduct having ended their business relationships with U.S. tomato growers participating in the Fair Food Program. How can a corporation claim to have an effective Code of Conduct while at the same time punishing suppliers for respecting human rights, abandoning workers, and choosing to exploit workers in a worse way somewhere else? Such a move is simply outrageous.

The PC(USA) was the first faith body to support the Wendy’s boycott. Since then, many other organizations of faith and conscience have endorsed. […]

[…] The Future: Extending the Successful Model to Supply Chains Worldwide

The struggle that started in Immokalee and the victories farmworkers have won do not belong just to the workers of Florida and other states where the Program is being implemented. Those victories have sparked hoped for workers in other realities – in the U.S. dairy industry as Migrant Justice works to implement the FFP principles, in the garment factories of Bangladesh as elements of the FFP have been incorporated into the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, and beyond.

There is an overture before the 222nd General Assembly seeking to end slavery in supply chains. It is an important resolution that would give the church the opportunity to use what it has learned through its support of the Fair Food Program to push forward this model of Worker-Driven Social Responsibility (WSR) with the church’s vendors and with companies in which the church invests.

It is crucial to remember that when a corporation has a code of conduct that says it abhors slavery or expects its suppliers to follow applicable laws, that code is bankrupt unless it is legally binding upon the company and contains rigorous enforcement mechanisms and swift and severe market consequences.

CIW Worker and ChildThink of Wendy’s Code and its toothless expectations that I discussed earlier. Shameful working conditions can persist even where there are codes of conduct or third party certification programs, because too often these programs lack the enforcement and consequences that have brought about such dramatic change and the assurance of farmworker rights in the Fair Food Program. That is one of the reasons the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights has underscored that the model developed by the CIW in the Fair Food Program is the most promising model for advancing human rights swiftly and surely in supply chains. This is to say that the PC(USA) can use its experience working with us to advance this successful model in other markets and hold corporations rightly accountable.

We need to transform the way in which business is done to end preventable abuses that men, women, and children suffer daily, whether in agriculture or mines, factories or fisheries. The trust and partnership the PC(USA) has built with us and its witness to corporate executives and the public at large place the church in a pivotal position of unique and significant impact. It is with deep love and appreciation for all you have done and all we have yet to do that I say, “Thank you, PC(USA)!” and ¡Adelante!,” dear friends.