We Are Embraced by Freedom

Why Farmworkers and Allies are Boycotting Wendy’s

From the May/June 2016 PNL#850

By Priscilla Vélez

“We are not a community tied down by slavery; we are embraced by freedom!”


Boycott Wendy's







With this powerful statement, Lupe Gonzalo, farmworker leader of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), led a crowd of fellow farmworkers and allies on International Women’s Day.

From New York City to places like Louisville, Nashville, all the way to Palm Beach, countless allies joined the CIW in a series of actions in the month of March with one purpose: to join farmworkers in declaring a national boycott on Wendy’s until the fast food giant joins the Fair Food Program (FFP).

From extreme poverty to sexual harassment and even modern-day slavery, farmworkers have long faced abuses at work. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a farmworker-led organization, created the FFP as a solution to these injustices. The FFP is a unique partnership among farmers, farmworkers, and retail food companies working on eliminating the exploitation that has plagued agricultural workers for generations.

Gonzalo voiced the significance of the CIW’s Fair Food Program in the lives of women: “For the first time, women can work with dignity in the fields. Wendy’s needs to learn that farmworkers will continue to fight until they agree to the Fair Food Program!”

The program has been eliminating sexual violence in the fields through its effective monitoring program that establishes zero tolerance for abuses—ranging from verbal abuse to sexual assault. Farmworker women are finally given a space to speak out and experience a dignified workplace under the FFP, no longer remaining silent about the oppression they face.

The program also provides a wage increase through the “penny per pound” premium, compliance with the CIW’s human rights-based Code of Conduct, worker-to-worker education sessions, and a worker-triggered complaint resolution mechanism.

While Wendy’s major competitors—McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Taco Bell, and Chipotle—have all chosen to join the FFP, Wendy’s continues to run from their ethical responsibility.

The reason why the CIW has called on their allies for a national boycott is threefold.

Firstly, Wendy’s has shifted its purchases from farms in Florida to Mexico. Following increasing implementation of the FFP in Florida’s farms and new standards for human rights set by Florida growers, Wendy’s has stopped buying tomatoes from Florida altogether. Wendy’s has instead taken their purchasing to Mexico, where there is widespread denial of human rights for farmworkers.
A recent investigation published about one of Wendy’s tomato growers from Mexico exposed the supply company’s inhumane conditions towards workers, where they were forced to work without pay, trapped for months in scorpion-infested camps, and beaten when they tried to quit.

Secondly, Wendy’s chose to value public relations above human rights protections for workers in their supply chain. This past January, Wendy’s released a new supplier code of conduct that contains no effective mechanisms for worker participation or enforcement. This new code embodies the most dangerous kind of corporate approach to social responsibility as it is driven by a false image of responsibility to serve their public relations interests rather than actually guaranteeing the security of human rights.

Lastly, Wendy’s is profiting from farmworker poverty. By refusing to join the FFP, Wendy’s is deriving a real cost advantage over its competitors, and providing a market for non-reputable growers. Wendy’s stands alone as the very last of the five major US fast food corporations to refuse to join the Fair Food Program.

Addressing Wendy’s refusal to join the FFP, Gonzalo stated: “The Campaign for Fair Food is prepared to mobilize consumer action in support of real worker-driven social responsibility, and we will prevail, because more and more, transparency and food justice are becoming the hallmarks of the 21st century food market.”

As more communities gain awareness of the abuses that are occurring in the fields, more people will continue to stand with farmworker leaders who are saying “no more!” to the corporations that place profit over people. As allies continue to take action in the Fair Food Movement through the national boycott, Wendy’s will be pressured to pursue a more transparent system for the farmworkers in their supply chain.

Students, youth, organizers, faith leaders, and community members from around the nation continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with farmworkers. Student/youth allies recently named April the “Month of Outrage,” as they organized actions from coast to coast, pressuring Wendy’s to quit neglecting farmworkers’ humanity.

As consumers, we have the responsibility to hold corporations accountable for the products that we buy from them. Justice delayed is justice denied. It is time for us to stand with farmworkers by boycotting Wendy’s until they stop delaying farmworkers’ access to justice and begin listening to the hardworking individuals and families who contribute millions to their annual profits.

Priscilla Velez is a Steering Committee member of the Student/Farmworker Alliance, the student/youth network that organizes in solidarity with the CIW.