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The New York Times: Why Wendy’s Is Facing Campus Protests (It’s About the Tomatoes)

A drive in college towns aims to get the fast-food chain to follow McDonald’s and Walmart in buying tomatoes grown under strict labor standards.

By Noam Scheiber
March 7, 2019

A program created by a group that organizes farmworkers has persuaded companies like Walmart and McDonald’s to buy their tomatoes from growers who follow strict labor standards. But high-profile holdouts have threatened to halt the effort’s progress.

Now the group, a nonprofit called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, is raising pressure on one of the most prominent holdouts — Wendy’s — which it sees as an obstacle to expansion.

The Immokalee workers’ initiative, called the Fair Food Program, currently benefits about 35,000 laborers, primarily in Florida. Over the last decade, it has helped transform the state’s tomato industry from one in which wage theft and violence were rampant to an industry with the some of the highest labor standards in American agriculture.

“They’ve already been successful in a measurable way at effectively eliminating modern-day slavery and sexual assault, and greatly reducing harassment,” said Susan L. Marquis, dean of the Pardee RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, Calif., who has written a book on the program. “Pay is substantially higher for these people.”

By late 2014, a few years after the program was up and running, Wendy’s had ceased buying winter tomatoes from Florida and was importing most of that supply from Mexican farms, where forced labor and physical abuse are common….

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For over five years, hundreds of thousands of farmworkers with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and their consumer allies have demanded verifiable protections against sexual violence and other human rights abuses in Wendy’s supply chain through the Presidential Medal-winning Fair Food Program. This summer, bowing to massive consumer pressure in the national Wendy’s Boycott, the fast-food giant announced its intention to move its purchases away from Mexico’s abusive tomato industry to greenhouse operations in the U.S. and Canada.

Wendy's has released misleading statements, including the claim that greenhouses have "inherent benefits of safe, indoor working conditions,” known to be false by farmworkers. This shift in sourcing doesn’t excuse Wendy’s from its duty to respect workers’ rights... it only puts Wendy’s leaders back where they started.

Greenhouses do not inherently protect farmworkers against sexual violence and abuse. Monitoring programs that lack worker participation and meaningful enforcement mechanisms, like the auditing schemes used by Wendy’s, have been proven to fail at guaranteeing a workplace free of exploitation. Wendy’s must join the Fair Food Program now!

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