Reaffirms church’s commitment to stand with farmworkers on human rights
by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE – A recent visit by Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Co-Moderator, the Rev. Jan Edmiston, re-affirmed the church’s more than 20-year relationship with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). The CIW and consumer allies, including the PC(USA), are boycotting Wendy’s which has refused to join the Fair Food Program (FFP). The FFP has dramatically improved wages and is ensuring humane conditions for farmworkers harvesting tomato, peppers and strawberries for the nation’s largest fast food, foodservice and supermarket chains in seven states. Last year the CIW was awarded a Presidential Medal for the rapid and comprehensive gains the program has achieved in ending and preventing forced labor and other endemic abuses.
Edmiston, along with the Rev. Graham Hart, general presbyter of Peace River Presbytery in southwest Florida, spent time with coalition leaders and those participating in the FFP in early November.
“I was very impressed with the level of commitment from everyone who worked there. The CIW is very well respected.” said Edmiston. “In addition to the groundbreaking work to transform working conditions in U.S. agriculture through the Fair Food Program, I was also impressed with how broad the ministry is from the radio station to the computer systems, the shop, to the gatherings each week to share information.”
The FFP is a partnership between farmworkers, Florida tomato growers as well as 14 national food retailers including Wal-Mart and McDonald’s. Participating retailers agree to only purchase from suppliers who meet a worker-driven Code of Conduct, including a zero-tolerance policy for forced labor in the fields, sexual harassment and wage theft. In addition, retailers pay a “penny-per-pound” premium that goes directly to the workers. The FFP’s model of worker-driven social responsibility is being lifted up by the UN for emulation in supply chains in other industries around the world.
Edmiston and Hart also traveled to Sunripe Certified Brands, formerly Pacific Tomato Growers, to hear from growers in the Fair Food Program about how the partnership is bringing dignity and human rights to the fields.
“The church’s missional partnership with the CIW has helped bring about human rights advances that make a real difference in workers’ lives, ensure growers have a product that is truly sustainable, and provide genuine risk-management for participating retailers,” said Edmiston. “When the church couples its grants and offerings to partners with shared public witness as it has with CIW, we see what an enormous impact we can have.”
In a statement from its blog, the CIW praised the co-moderator’s visit. “Rev. Edmiston’s visit signified the latest demonstration of her church’s deep and unwavering commitment to the CIW’s work, a commitment that has been a crucial driving force in the success of the Fair Food movement.”
For nearly 11 years, the CIW has been campaigning for the Wendy’s Company to join the Fair Food Program, but the Ohio-based fast food chain has refused. It has instead pulled its purchases from Fair Food Program fields where human rights standards prevail and sent its purchasing to Mexican fields with documented human rights abuses. Other competitors such as Yum Brands, McDonalds, Burger King and Subway are participating in the Fair Food Program. The CIW launched a multi-city tour this year, holding demonstrations at various Wendy’s Restaurants as well as its corporate headquarters. The CIW has called for a nationwide boycott of the restaurant and the PC(USA) has endorsed the boycott.
“We are at a crossroads once again, where a major buyer of tomatoes is hesitating from doing the right thing for workers,” said Andrew Kang Bartlett, associate with the Presbyterian Hunger Program. “The presence in Immokalee of our co-moderator represents our denomination’s abiding commitment to the coalition and our faith that Wendy’s will choose the path of fairness and justice.”
Edmiston says everyone benefits from better working conditions. “Human rights are essential for workers, good for business, and embody the gospel command to love our neighbor. The PC(USA)’s partnership with the CIW is a concrete example of the extraordinary impact such love can have.”
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