Think Twice Before Ordering that Frosty

Blog by Justice Promoter Kelly Litt

The Wendy’s Way: Treat people with respect, do the right thing, give something back.

That sounds like a great mission statement, perhaps a statement similar to something we would find in the Gospel. How wonderful it would be if all corporations operated in accordance with those principles! I’ve always enjoyed Wendy’s chicken sandwiches and Frosty desserts, and with a great catch-phrase like that, why wouldn’t I want to support their company? However, while Wendy’s proclaims social responsibility through their very catch-phrases, they leave much to be desired in how they treat those with whom they work.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Wendy’s Annual Shareholder Meeting in Dublin, Ohio. At this meeting, the executive officers spoke about finances and how Wendy’s is working to create joy and opportunity in food, family, and community. They explained plans for updating Wendy’s restaurants and continued outreach and marketing.

I, along with 26 other community and faith-based leaders, was in attendance to question Wendy’s on their practices and commitment (or lack of commitment) to farmworkers. We urged Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program, a program established by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an internationally-recognized farmworker-led human rights organization. This program aims to protect farmworkers from human right abuses and conditions such as inhumane wages, labor camps, child labor, sexual violence, and modern-day slavery. However, instead of signing on to the Fair Food Program, Wendy’s has moved its tomato purchases from Florida to Mexico in order to avoid the Fair Food Program altogether. These abuses of farmworkers are just as horrific in Mexico and go unchecked.

According to their website, “the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ (CIW) Fair Food Program is a unique partnership among farmers, farmworkers, and retail food companies that ensures humane wages and working conditions for the workers who pick fruits and vegetables on participating farms.”

The Fair Food Program has proven results in promoting the rights of farmworkers and ensuring they are protected at work and paid a fair wage. Already, numerous corporations (many of which are major competitors of Wendy’s) have signed on including Walmart, Chipotle, Burger King, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Subway, Taco Bell, and McDonald’s.

Credit: Rabbi Daniel Kirzane
Credit: Rabbi Daniel Kirzane

At the shareholder meeting, the executive leadership quickly got frustrated and annoyed with our continued questions about Wendy’s refusal to join the Fair Food Program and refused to even engage in a conversation about it in a private meeting. They asserted that they did not care about the current Wendy’s boycott because they still had “a huge share of stomachs that love Wendy’s.” Eventually, the chairman cut us off and prevented us from asking any more questions about the Fair Food Program. After he adjourned the meeting, those of us in attendance on behalf of shareholders and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers held up Boycott Wendy’s signs and silently proceeded out together. It was a powerful experience to witness the inner workings of corporate America, to see how they value their “brand image” over the lives of farmworkers who they are making money off of by disadvantaging and harming.

Since 2005, the campaign to boycott Wendy’s has been growing across the country. Faith leaders, students, and community members have stood together to boycott Wendy’s until they agree to sign on to the Fair Food Program.

After learning more about the Fair Food Program and experiencing Wendy’s refusal to even have a discussion about it, I will think twice before pulling up to a Wendy’s drive-through window. I understand that no corporation or business is perfect; there is still a lot of progress to be made on many fronts. Yet if I believe protecting farmworkers is important, shouldn’t I participate if I’m able? If abstaining from a chicken sandwich and Frosty to voice my opposition can make even a small difference, then I will use my power as a consumer to make my voice heard.

Before enjoying a Frosty, I will think about the farmworker who isn’t being protected against sexual harassment in the workplace or the farmworker who can’t make enough money to feed his children because Wendy’s refuses to pay 1 cent more per pound of tomatoes to ensure a living wage. I now see that my patronage can be used to support restaurants that are working toward the common good and assuming their responsibility to protect farmworkers. What do you think about the #BoycottWendys campaign?

For more information, check out this article in the New York Times which hails the Fair Food Program as “the best workplace-monitoring program…seen in the U.S.”
For more about the Wendy’s Boycott, visit here.
Click here to learn more about the Fair Food Program.
Learn more about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers here.

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

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