Wendy’s (photo: @jjbers)
When the country’s largest fast food companies were forced to tackle sexual violence, forced labor, and other human rights abuses in their supply chain, they all ended up agreeing except one.
After years of pressure, Wendy’s still refuses to follow its peers and join the Fair Food Program to protect farm workers and defend their human rights. But the movement to get Wendy’s to take this fundamental step is gaining momentum. It’s time for New York City Council to pass a resolution introduced over a year ago calling on Wendy’s to join the program as needed support for the lives of farm workers.
The city council resolution is part of a campaign that has included years of organization and work by people across New York City and across the country – farm workers, consumers, activists, students, religious leaders – standing up against the power imbalance between big business and farm workers and the abuse that can result. The campaign included a consumer boycott and protests, including a five-day hunger strike and march in Manhattan.
Even investors are getting started: In April, a group with $ 1 trillion in assets under management, including the New York City Comptroller’s Office, issued a letter amplifying the campaign’s demands and attracting l attention to widely publicized failures to protect worker safety. throughout Wendy’s supply chain. Convened by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, these investors highlighted the dire conditions farm workers faced nationwide during the global pandemic, and the Fair Food Program’s unique binding and enforceable COVID-19 safety protocols. on program farms, directly questioning the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on essential brown and black workers.
Activists and investors alike may find that the conditions facing agricultural workers do not reflect our values. Many workers face poverty, sexual harassment and forced labor. As the resolution was presented to city council, the Council’s Women’s Caucus underscored its support, drawing particular attention to the ways in which farm workers face gender-based violence. Caucus members described how sexual violence “has been a plague in American agriculture for decades, with 80% of female farm workers reporting being sexually harassed and assaulted on the job.”
Letters from investors and the Women’s Caucus are addressed to Nelson Peltz, who is both Chairman of the Board of Directors of Wendy’s and Chairman of Trian Partners, a hedge fund that is Wendy’s largest institutional shareholder and is based in New York. A resolution from the municipal council is essential to send a strong and united message to the corporate entity that holds the key to implementing this necessary change.
These conditions also caught the attention of religious leaders, including the rabbis of T’ruah, a rabbinical human rights organization from which I draw moral strength and whose members marched alongside workers to demand a level playing field. New York religious leaders representing a cross section of faiths have also spoken out in favor of the resolution. Many religious traditions, including my Jewish religious tradition, call on us to seek justice and fight for human rights for all. In a letter released shortly after the resolution was introduced, religious leaders in New York made it clear: “Farm workers deserve to work with dignity.
The Fair Food Program offers this dignity. The program was created ten years ago by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a human rights organization. The program brings together farm workers, consumers, large food retailers and producers to create a 21st century farming industry that no longer tolerates the inhumane conditions and low wages of farm workers. Participating producers adhere to strict standards developed by the farm workers themselves – including the right to work free from sexual assault and harassment, safe working conditions including shade, water and clean toilets in the fields, their rights without retaliation, access to breaks and safe transportation to work.
The standards are met by an independent monitor who conducts regular audits and manages the investigation and resolution of complaints, ensuring that producers are following the rules. If the supervisor finds violations, producers risk being excluded from the program. In turn, participating buyers – large food retailers, including Wendy’s main competitors, such as McDonald’s and Burger King – sign legally binding Fair Trade Food Agreements that commit them to buy from certified producers. Each group benefits. Workers receive fairer protection and wages, producers get a stable workforce and set their products apart from their competitors, and retailers prevent abuse in their supply chain and uphold their stated values of social responsibility. ‘business.
These ideas don’t just look good on paper, they get results. Since the launch of the Fair Food Program in 2011, farm workers have received more than $ 36 million in wage premiums through the Fair Food Premium paid by participating buyers. Almost 75,000 agricultural workers have been educated on their rights and over 300,000 workers have received “Know Your Rights” education booklets. In addition, the Independent Observer recovered over $ 400,000 for workers owed to funds. Over 9,000 audit findings were corrected. More fundamentally, workers are now protected when they denounce the injustices they face in the fields.
Already, big food companies such as McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King, Chipotle, Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Yum! Brands (KFC’s parent company, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut) participate in the program. Wendy’s absence from this list is notable – and unacceptable.
Wendy’s wants the smiley face of its logo to express friendliness and quality. Those who know better understand that behind this smile hides a corporate structure that is alone among its peers to reject common sense protections for workers in its supply chain. It’s time for Wendy’s to do its part to protect the working and vulnerable class, and New York City Council should act quickly to send a message to Wendy’s about the value New York places on human dignity and worth.
Ruth Messinger, former Manhattan Borough President, is the American Jewish World Service Global Ambassador and Social Justice Campaigner in Residence at Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan.