Farmworkers ask consumers to boycott Wendy’s

Farmworkers have called for a national boycott of Wendy’s, the Columbus-based fast-food chain, until it commits to the Fair Food Program (FFP) to protect the human rights of farmworkers in its supply chain.

Tuesday’s small but lively rally at the Wendy’s restaurant on Hopple Street in Camp Washington was part of a national campaign of action by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to promote the boycott. The regional portion of the campaign also includes rallies in Louisville, Columbus, Cleveland, and Ann Arbor.

Activists and farmworkers rally at Wendy's on Hopple Street to support national boycott of the fast-food chain.
Activists and farmworkers rally on Hopple Street to promote a national boycott of Wendy’s.

The Wendy’s boycott is CIW’s second since the inception of the Campaign for Fair Food in 2001. The first was a four-year boycott aimed at Taco Bell.

CIW cited three key reasons for the Wendy’s boycott. Wendy’s has shifted its tomato purchases from farms in Florida to Mexico where compliance with labor standards is worse. Wendy’s hides behind public relations messaging to avoid verifiable protection of human rights. And finally, Wendy’s is profiting from the poverty of farm workers, deriving a cost advantage over its competitors, and encouraging disreputable growers.

Because Wendy’s operates restaurants on many college campuses under contracts with administrators or their food service operators, a student-led boycott called “Boot the Braids” is also looking to move Wendy’s off campus in Ohio and around the country. A key contest will be the Wendy’s on the Ohio State University campus in the company’s hometown of Columbus.

The boycott has been endorsed by many faith and community organizations, including the National Council of Churches in the USA, which represents 45 million people in more than 100,000 congregations across the country.

The CIW emerged from organizing efforts during the mid-1990s of the Mexican, Guatemalan, and Haitian immigrants in Immokalee who faced low wages, workplace violence, verbal and sexual abuse, poor working conditions, wage theft, and, in some cases, slavery.

Guided by experiences in their home countries, members of the CIW developed the Fair Food Program, according to Oscar Otzoy, a migrant farmworker and CIW member who was in Cincinnati for the rally.

FFP is a partnership among farm workers, participating growers, and participating buyers–14 major food retailers, including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Walmart. Participating buyers agree to purchase exclusively from participating growers who meet a worker-driven Code of Conduct. They also pay a “penny-per-pound” premium, which is passed down through the supply chain and paid out directly to workers by their employers.

To protect their sales, participating growers are motivated to comply with the FFP and to cooperate on audits and complaint resolutions.

Wendy’s refuses to join the Fair Food Program, unlike its major competitors in the fast-food industry–McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, and Taco Bell–who joined before 2009. After a three-year consumer campaign and a one-year student-led boycott, CIW announced the Wendy’s boycott in March.

The purchasing power of large retailers can be used to suppress farmworkers’ wages and downgrade working conditions. Alternatively, as in the FFP model, it can be used to improve the plight of farmworkers. The FFP’s binding enforcement model is widely recognized as superior to the voluntary compliances model used by Wendy’s and many other corporations.

By Mike Brown, mbrown.c4ad@gmail.com