It’s still a pig…


Wendy’s latest public relations ploy in response to Campaign for Fair Food isn’t fooling anyone…

Sometimes, you just have to hand it to Wikipedia.  It can be a wonderful resource, with clear, concise definitions of just about every concept under the sun.  Here’s a good example, brought to mind by the very latest news out of Wendy’s public relations department:
To put “lipstick on a pig” is a rhetorical expression, used to convey the message that making superficial or cosmetic changes is a futile attempt to disguise the true nature of a product.

The latest “news” from Wendy’s PR shop… 

Earlier this week, just days ahead of the launch of the Return to Human Rights Tour, Wendy’s issued a press release entitled “The Wendy’s Company Enhances and Expands Supplier Code of Conduct,” including this bit of news:

The Code will also require third party reviews related to the human rights and labor practices of certain produce suppliers. The decision to add third party reviews was due in part to the nature of agricultural work, its workforce, and an evaluation of various risk factors.

With this timely announcement, Wendy’s has once again tweaked its public relations strategy in response to the Campaign for Fair Food, claiming to have “enhanced” its social responsibility efforts (after stubbornly insisting for months that those efforts were perfectly adequate), just as farmworkers and their allies prepare for a national tour decrying the inadequacy of those efforts.   
And, once again, its attempt to fool its consumers with fake social responsibility — much sound and fury but no verifiable protections for the fundamental human rights of farmworkers in its supply chain — is fooling exactly no one. 

A brief history of Wendy’s public relations responses to a human rights crisis…

Wendy’s has been stuck in a cycle of denial / cosmetic change / hope against hope / and more denial for several years now:
  • Wendy’s first response to the advent of the groundbreaking Fair Food Program was to abandon its longtime Florida suppliers and shift its purchases to Mexico, where human rights violations are endemic and go effectively unchecked, hoping no one would notice the company’s attempt to run from social responsibility.

Enough is, finally, enough.  It’s time for Wendy’s to stop pussyfooting around the ongoing human rights crisis in its produce supply chain and step up to real social responsibility by joining the Fair Food Program — the undisputed gold standard for human rights protection in agriculture today.

Sooner or later, the last step in this dance leads to the Fair Food Program…

The Fair Food Program received the “highest recommendation” in a recent study of seven agricultural labor certification programs by the Organic Consumers Association.  Among its many conclusions, the report emphasized “To be effective, voluntary certification programs must have strong enforcement mechanisms and include workers in all levels of decision-making, governance, and enforcement.”


Third party audits are the very definition of a “superficial or cosmetic” approach to social responsibility.  They are, at best, a snapshot of conditions on a farm, a momentary glimpse of labor relations on the day of the audit that tell the buyer (and its consumers looking for real information on the working conditions behind the products they buy) little or nothing about the conditions that prevail the other 364 days of the year.  

And that is at best.  In reality, third party audits are easily and regularly gamed to cover up systemic issues, and provide workers with absolutely no voice to report violations that occur outside the audit window.  Without worker education, a complaint system, and real market consequences for human rights violations rooted in a binding legal agreement with the workers themselves — the essential elements of the Fair Food Program — occasional third party audits have virtually no chance of bringing about change to any supply chain, much less to produce, a sector that even Wendy’s has finally recognized as unique for its long and wretched history of human rights abuses.
In light of Wendy’s continuous dissembling, the Return to Human Rights Tour remains a critical moment in the ongoing campaign to demand real social responsibility from the fast food giant.  Now more than ever, workers’ and consumers’ voices must be heard.  After running away from the Florida tomato industry and the Fair Food Program, Wendy’s is inching its way, baby step by baby step, back toward what the United Nations called earlier this year the “international benchmark” for the protection of human rights in corporate supply chains. 
Half measures satisfy no one.  The last step on this path is inevitable, the only question now is how long it will take for Wendy’s to get there.