Wendy’s has more than 6,500 franchises in the US alone. It’s the world’s third largest fast food hamburger chain, servicing millions of customers annually. A group of employees known as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is calling for a boycott of the hamburger titan, kicking off a demonstration to communicate its displeasure with a 12-day Workers’ Voice tour earlier this month.
The CIW doesn’t boycott companies very often. The Wendy’s boycott will be the second such event. The first was against Taco Bell 15 years ago.
The boycott is being called for because Wendy’s has stopped purchasing their tomatoes from farms in Florida and will now source them from Mexico. CIW sees this as a struggle for food justice for food service workers here in America.
Bob Bertini, a spokesperson for the Wendy’s, confirmed the decision over email:
“We base our agricultural purchasing decisions based on seasonality, quality, varietal needs, and other factors. Currently we are purchasing tomatoes from Mexico and other locations. However, when we do purchase tomatoes from Florida, we only work with suppliers who themselves are signatories to the Fair Food Agreement.
The company is also accused of ignoring the Fair Food Program workplace rules with legitimate claims of abuse and a number of documented cases of slavery. Often complaints filed by workers are ignored by their supervisors, and some are dismissed without pay for the work they do.
Now, workers faced with injustice can call a 24-hour complaint hotline managed by the Fair Food Standards Council, a third-party monitoring program and investigative body. Once a worker files a complaint against a participating farm, the Council launches an investigation which includes a corrective action plan.
Coalition organizer Gerardo Reyes referenced Wendy’s circumvention of the program as a direct affront to human rights at a rally recently:
“They have been taking advantage of our community for years and years, and when the community finally created a working solution to the labor abuse in the fields, they go to exploit workers somewhere else.”
Wendy’s in-house code of conduct states:
“We have always prided ourselves on our relationships with industry-leading suppliers, and we work with companies who share our commitment to quality, integrity, and ethics.”
Reyes argues, though, that Wendy’s code of conduct has no teeth:
“It doesn’t matter if you have the most beautiful set of rules or code of conduct” he said. “If you don’t have the workers protected against retaliation in the workplace, you are not going to receive complaints.”
Complaints from workers, Reyes believes, tend to come up when there’s a safe grievance policy in place.
Farm workers have been treated better because of the Fair Food Program, but Wendy’s seems to have upset the tomato cart in Florida. Is it possible that the company is taking the same poor working conditions to a place where farmers are used to being treated poorly, with no oversight or corporate accountability?
Mexico has a history of treating their agricultural workers without dignity. There is often a cycle of poverty for farm workers no matter where they live. It is possible that Wendy’s is contributing to this social problem.
According to the CIW, there has not been a recorded instance of labor abuse since Florida growers began participating in the Fair Food Program four years ago. Is this why Wendy’s is shifting their supply chain to Mexico?
Nely Rodriguez, who left her home in Matamoros, Mexico in search of better work, calls the Wendy’s shift away from Florida an act of “simple greed at the expense of impoverished workers.” She explains:
“We know that the work in Mexico is very different. There is no type of worker’s aid or benefits. The wages are also low. It’s like textile factories. Textile factories go to poor countries, to pay a dollar a day to workers. This is more or less what Wendy’s is doing … So Wendy’s washed their hands clean of us to go where the workers don’t have a voice, and thus continues the violence and slavery.”