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Presbyterian Hunger Program, Coalition of Immokalee Workers encouraged by surprise move by Wendy’s


Restaurant chain to bring most tomato purchases back to U.S. by fall

By Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Demonstrators march in the rain outside of Wendy’s corporate headquarters in Dublin, Ohio. Photo courtesy of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

LOUISVILLE – Halfway there, but not far enough. That’s the reaction from the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP), the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and other supporters following last week’s announcement by Wendy’s corporate executives to purchase a majority of its tomatoes in the U.S. instead of Mexico. The announcement came during the restaurant chain’s annual shareholders meeting in Dublin, Ohio.

Every year, the CIW and its supporters travel to Dublin to address corporate executives and picket outside of the company headquarters. Those attending the meeting say they were surprised by the leaders’ announcement to bring the operations back to the U.S. this fall. Until now, the company has made purchases in Mexico, despite criticism that the operations were inhumane and workers were living well below the poverty line.

For years, the CIW has campaigned for Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program, an initiative that aims to improve the livelihood of farmworkers that supply vegetables to major restaurants and food chains across the country. The campaign aims to educate consumers on farm labor exploitation and build an alliance between farmworkers and consumers. So far, more than 14 other fast-food companies and food service providers such as Aramark, Sodexo and Compass Group, and the nation’s largest food retailer, Walmart, have signed on in support of the program.

“Wendy’s promise to stop sourcing tomatoes in Mexico is a demonstration of the power of the farmworkers and the Fair Food movement,” said Andrew Kang Bartlett, Presbyterian Hunger Program’s national associate. “But this is only a partial victory, and Presbyterians will continue to stand with the coalition until Wendy’s joins the Fair Food Program.”

Wendy’s corporate leaders told shareholders last week that the company will work with approximately a dozen suppliers to produce tomatoes in greenhouse operations and that a majority will come from the U.S. and Canada. They added that the suppliers will be required to follow the company’s supplier code of conduct and will be subject to regular evaluation by several auditing firms.

“The reality is that workers in greenhouses face the very same situations of abuse, and sometimes it’s even worse than in an open field. Sometimes, people think of greenhouses in the way they think about organic food — the tomato sounds like it will be of a higher quality, and so the working conditions must also be better,” said Lupe Gonzalo with CIW. “But it’s not just about having organic food on the table, or even just about saying that workers have shade and therefore all of their problems are solved — it’s about ensuring actual human rights. Wendy’s isn’t going to see or understand that, because they once again are sitting inside in their offices, dreaming up the quality of life that farmworkers supposedly have.”

Corporate leaders told the group they are confident in the “long-term relationships” with their suppliers who understand the need to live up to corporate standards, including human rights.

“There is still no guarantee that the workers are receiving the dignified treatment that they deserve,” said Gerardo Reyes Chavez with CIW. “How can you demonstrate that your code of conduct is effectively addressing and eliminating child labor, sexual violence and forced labor in your supply chain?”

Rebecca Barnes, coordinator for PHP, said they would continue to advocate alongside the coalition for as long as it takes to get Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program.

“Presbyterians have been clear that they want to feel good about the food they purchase, and the ways that the people growing it are treated,” said Barnes. “Presbyterians have stood with tomato pickers for over 15 years now, since the beginning of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ campaign to engage Taco Bell. We will continue to stand for Fair Food and pressure companies to do the right thing.”

The Presbyterian Hunger Program is made possible by contributions to One Great Hour of Sharing.

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