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Support farm workers by boycotting Wendy’s

By Katarina Weessies

Section: Opinions

February 9, 2018

The Fair Food Program was born in 2005 when the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group of activist farm workers than originated in Florida, staged a boycott of Taco Bell. The coalition was protesting inhumane conditions on the American farms from which Taco Bell sourced its produce. At these farms, workers were subjected to dangerous working conditions, sexual violence and enslavement. The boycott worked, and Taco Bell signed the Fair Food Agreement, which ensured that any produce served at Taco Bell came from farms with humane conditions and decent wages.

Today, all major fast food companies have signed on the the Fair Food Program, including Chipotle, McDonalds and Burger King. Brandeis’ supplier Sodexo is a participant in the program. The one hold-out from this near-universal participation in the Fair Food Program is Wendy’s. Wendy’s, in reaction to the Fair Food Program, moved their produce farming to Mexico, where workers do not have the same protections as the American farms governed by the Fair Food Program.

The harm that Wendy’s produce-farming procedures do to workers is apparent. Farm workers without workplace protections are at a continuous risk of enslavement by their employers or injury in their workplace. The risks for female workers are particularly high. According to the Community Alliance for Global Justice, 21 percent of farm workers in the US are women. For these women, sexual harassment and violence are rampant and unchecked. 90 percent of women farm workers see sexual harassment in their workplace as a “major problem,” and 70 percent said that sexual violence is a “major problem for them.” Female farm workers who are subjected to harassment and violence almost never report their experiences or come forward due to shame, language barriers and a “lack of information about resources available to them.”

While the Fair Food Program cannot completely eliminate this issue, it is a large step in the right direction. The Presidential Medal-Winning program monitors farms and contacts workers to ensure that working conditions are not inhumane. The program empowers workers to speak out and protest if they are subjected to sexual violence or other inhumane workplace conditions.

This empowerment is apparent in the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group that existed before the first Fair Food Agreement in 2005, but has since grown to influence every major fast food producer in the country. This group is now turning their attention to Wendy’s in an effort to expand their empowerment to the farm workers currently being exploited by Wendy’s’ produce farms.

On Mar. 11 to Mar. 15, farm workers will descend on the New York City office of Trian Partners, a Wendy’s board-member company, to engage in a four day protest fast. The protest is inspired by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements with a particular focus on violence against women in the fields.

If the protest fast convinces Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program, the effect on farm workers will be quick and obvious. Wendy’s will have to withdraw from exploitative overseas farms and source their produce from farms that abide by humane standards. Since Wendy’s would be the last major fast food company to join the program, exploitative farms both in the US and overseas would have no massive American companies to buy their produce. This change would increase the status and employment capability to humane farms and improve the conditions for all farm workers.

For those of us who can’t help out directly with the protest fast, there are plenty of ways to help the Coalition of Immokalee Workers achieve their goal. The coalition is calling on consumers to boycott Wendy’s. Additionally, anyone can donate to the workers via boycott-wendys.org.

The Fair Food Program empowers farm workers to demand fair wages and conditions and to speak out against sexual violence. The story’s empowerment of currently-exploited female farm workers is an important facet of the #MeToo movement. As consumers, it is easy for us to help these farm workers access their power and achieve their goals by donating to their cause and boycotting Wendy’s.

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