Read what a farmworker had to say to Wendy’s shareholders at their annual meeting

CIW staff member and former farmworker Gerardo Reyes Chavez speaks during a recent action outside Trian offices in Manhattan. Trian is Nelson Peltz’s hedge fund and a top shareholder in Wendy’s.

CIW staff member Gerardo Reyes Chavez to Wendy’s shareholders: “I also know first hand how necessary this Program really is. I first started working in the fields at age 11.”

“Inside the Fair Food Program, things are different. Workers have the right to make complaints, and are protected from retaliation when they do. “

For the last decade, Wendy’s has had the opportunity to join its major competitors in being on the right side of history by joining the Fair Food Program, thus guaranteeing basic human rights for the farmworkers who make its profits possible.

Consumers across the nation, sympathetic to the plight of farmworkers in the nation’s food industry, have called on Wendy’s to join. Hundreds of thousands of consumers have signed petitions calling on Wendy’s to join the Program, and at 2021’s general stockholders’ meeting, shareholders issued a resounding 95% vote in favor of a resolution calling for the protection of workers in its food supply chain. 

Just last month, the New York City Council passed a resolution calling on Wendy’s to join the Program.  A delegation proceeded to deliver that resolution in-person to Trian Partners, an investment firm founded by Wendy’s chairman Nelson Peltz. This vote came after a 5-day, 50 mile march across Florida by farmworkers and allies who rallied in the hometown of Peltz, Palm Beach, to urge him to finally join.

And yet, at this year’s annual shareholder meeting on May 16, Wendy’s again failed to join the Fair Food Program – the same program that has, over a decade, delivered proven results for tens of thousands of farmworkers, preventing forced labor and winning a Presidential Medal for its unprecedented success in ensuring the basic dignity of farmworkers.

But before Wendy’s turned its back once again the gold standard for human rights in its supply chain, the company’s shareholders did have the opportunity to listen to a former farmworker and longtime CIW staff member Gerardo Reyes Chavez, who shared his story of toiling in the fields before helping to forge the Fair Food Program, which has transformed the fields on farms across the US and empowered tens of thousands of farmworkers to be frontline monitors of their own rights under its protections. We have included a full transcript of Gerardo Reyes’ speech to Wendy’s shareholders here below, so you too can read along as he lays out the parallel worlds that exist in agriculture today: the world of dignity and respect inside the bounds of the Fair Food Program, and the dark world that lurks just outside, a darkness which envelops hundreds of thousands of farmworkers, many of whom are essentially trapped in exploitative conditions on farms, and even some who are working in forced labor. 

Here is the full transcript of his speech to Wendy’s shareholders: 

“Good morning to all Wendy’s Board members, employees, and shareholders. My name is Gerardo Reyes Chavez, and I am with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a worker-based human rights organization. Today, I am presenting shareholder Proposal Number 5 to amend proxy access, on behalf of the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany NY, a long-term Wendy’s shareholder.

The proposal requests removing the Wendy’s stockholder aggregation limit and reducing the ownership requirements to a more achievable percentage that will change proxy access from a theoretical route to nominating director candidates to a concrete shareholder right. We believe it could promote the adoption of shareholder-supported best practices in corporate governance, even when there is opposition from insiders and sitting Board members with a significant ownership stake and influence in proxy voting outcomes.

farmworkers and allies carry the world illuminated partially by the light of the Fair Food Program, in a 5-day, 50-mile march across Florida in order to urge Wendy’s to join the Program.

In 2021, a super majority of Wendy’s shareholders voted for a shareholder proposal calling for greater transparency into how the Company manages human rights risks in the supply chain. Following Wendy’s inadequate implementation of the proposal and response to these risks, and Proponents seek to hold the Board accountable. 

One example of a commonsense best practice to guard against the supply chain risk of forced labor and other abuses is to participate in the Fair Food Program. The Fair Food Program has been recommended by US Customs and Border Protection, the US Department of Labor, and it has even received a Presidential Medal. 

I also know first hand how necessary this Program really is. I first started working in the fields at age 11. Since I joined the Coalition of Immokalee Workers more than 20 years ago, we have assisted with more than a dozen investigations and prosecutions of modern-day slavery involving farmworkers in the United States, one of which just concluded sentencing at the end of 2022 and where the Department of Labor named the large companies that had bought produce from a forced labor trafficking ring operating on farms in the United States.

Inside the Fair Food Program, things are different. Workers have the right to make complaints, and are protected from retaliation when they do. The Program also includes the only privately-enforceable COVID-19 and heat stress protections for farmworkers that we have seen in the world of social responsibility. 

The reason our Program works, and others do not, is really quite simple: it is backed by the binding purchasing commitment of 14 major brands. This includes McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, and Yum Brands. But not Wendy’s, yet. We invite them to join us.

I hereby move Proposal 5 regarding proxy access amendments. The proponents encourage all Wendy’s shareholders to support this proposal to strengthen shareholder democracy, and for the company to implement the requested amendments.”