Presbyterian Hunger Program supports action to raise awareness of farmworkers’ rights
by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP) is encouraging Presbyterians to join other religious leaders this month in an action against the Wendy’s Restaurant chain. On Jan. 18, faith leaders around the country are planning a National Day of Fasting and Witness to protest the corporation’s refusal to join the Fair Food Program.
The fasting is the latest in a round of actions taken by farmworkers and their supporters to highlight the rights of farmworkers who pick tomatoes for Wendy’s and other national restaurant and grocery chains. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has campaigned for years to convince Wendy’s corporate leadership to join 14 other fast-food companies and grocers to improve the livelihood of farmworkers. Individuals can sign up to fast and download resources at bit.ly/2018fast.
In 2010, the CIW and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange signed an agreement to implement the “Fair Food Code of Conduct” on 90 percent of the state’s tomato farms, impacting tens of thousands of workers. Wendy’s has rejected requests to join the program and began purchasing its vegetables from Mexico in 2016.
“Hundreds of clergy and other religious individuals in over two dozen cities around the country will take part in this action on January 18,” said Andrew Kang Bartlett, associate for national hunger concerns with PHP. “Farm workers from Immokalee and their consumer allies will follow this with a five-day Freedom Fast, March 11-15, to compel Wendy’s to provide verifiable freedom from human rights and labor abuses in its supply chain by joining the Fair Food Program.”
Kang Bartlett says the group also will be protesting the ongoing human rights abuses faced by workers in Mexico’s produce industry.
“The longer Wendy’s continues sourcing tomatoes from workers who are exploited, underpaid and even physically abused, the more tarnished the Wendy’s brand becomes,” he said. “They can choose to take the high road and join with the CIW’s amazing track record in moving toward more just and safe conditions in the fields.”
The fast also commemorates the 20th anniversary of farmworkers’ 30-day hunger strike. In December 1997 through January 1998, six farmworkers in Immokalee, Florida, made the decision to stop eating until growers who owned the farms where they worked listened to their concerns. At the time, the workers were facing low wages, along with physical and verbal abuse, sexual abuse and forced labor. The strike ended when former President Jimmy Carter and Bishop John Nevins of the Catholic Diocese of Venice called for a dialogue with growers.
“Farm work is one of the most underpaid and dangerous jobs in the U.S. and the world. Forming a union, as the United Farm Workers and the Farm Labor Organizing committee have traditionally done, has been one way farmworkers have improved pay and working conditions,” Kang Bartlett said. “CIW has forged a new approach by compelling the companies who buy produce to take responsibility for people in their supply chain. The farmworker-driven Fair Food Program has eliminated sexual abuse in the fields, resolved disputes and nearly doubled the wages of the people working for the growers in the program.”
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has accompanied the CIW since 2002.
“We will continue to do so until all who labor to provide our food are treated with dignity, equity and fairness,” Kang Bartlett said. “What we need now are more people to pray, fast, rally, write, preach and call on Wendy’s to be a part of the Fair Food Nation.”
The Presbyterian Hunger Program is made possible by gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.
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