Why Wendy’s is the source of unrest among US farm workers | Farming

Over the past several years, farm workers have held protests and hunger strikes on college campuses, outside of corporate headquarters, at annual shareholders meetings, and in cities around the US, and called for a public boycott to demand the fast food corporate chain Wendy’s join the Fair Food Program.

The Fair Food Program was launched in 2011 by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida out of the group’s Campaign for Fair Food, to ensure workers are involved in enforcing, monitoring, and designing programs to protect workers in their workplaces through the food supply chain, relying on partnerships between workers, growers, and retail buyers to raise wages and adhere to workplace standards.

Wendy’s main competitors, Burger King, McDonald’s, Subway, Chipotle, and Yum Brands which operates Taco Bell and KFC, all joined the Fair Food Program at least a decade ago.

The campaign to pressure Wendy’s to join the program has seen a resurgence as several high-profile cases of what has been called modern day slavery on farms in the US and Mexico have demonstrated the need for corporations to assume responsibility for these abuses within their supply chains .

On 2 April, farm workers held a five-mile protest march in Palm Beach, Florida, where Wendy’s billionaire majority shareholder and prolific Trump fundraiser Nelson Peltz owns a beachfront mansion worth over $123m and his asset management firm, Trian Partners, recently acquired an office building for $23m, to demand Wendy’s join the Fair Food Program and end modern slavery in farm fields.

“We’ve spent over seven years calling on Wendy’s to join this program that every single one of their competitors has been a part of for a decade, and their response to date has been to refuse to commit to join the program and ignore the voices of farmworkers,” said Cruz Salucio, a farm worker in Florida and staffer with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). “Farm workers marched with the simple question for Wendy’s”. And that question is, ‘can you guarantee there isn’t slavery in your supply chain?’ Unfortunately, because there’s no transparency, we haven’t been able to be sure that is not the case.”

Farm workers are planning a rally on 12 May in New York City outside of Trian Partners midtown Manhattan office as part of the Wendy’s Boycott campaign ahead of the company’s annual shareholder meeting.

Salucio explained most consumers don’t know where the produce they purchase at supermarkets or used at restaurants is sourced from and what working conditions experienced to get food products to their table, citing the Fair Food Program as a solution to change abusive practices in major corporations’ supply chains.

“Farmworkers across the country and outside of the Fair Food Program continue to be vulnerable to many abuses including heat stress, physical violence and health and safety risks. Without enforcement and monitoring, these abuses will continue to flourish,” added Salucio.

In 2021, a shareholder proposal was filed in support of the Fair Food Program, demanding Wendy’s provide evidence to the extent of the company protects human rights within its supply chain, which was passed with over 95% of shareholders voting in favor.

Eli Kasargod-Staub, executive director and co-founder of Majority Action, a non-profit shareholder advocacy group, argued Wendy’s response since the proposal passed last year has been inadequate.

“They simply failed to respond to a number of very specific things that the proposal calls on them to do and there were even more substantive non-responses when it comes to actually taking responsibility for addressing the risks in their supply chain,” said Kasargod- Staub. “Wendy’s is very much an outlier among its peers in terms of how they engage in this really critical question of human rights risks in the agricultural supply chain, and that has really heightened shareholder concerns.”

Ahead of Wendy’s annual shareholder meeting in May shareholders are once again pressing Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program.

A spokesperson for Wendy’s dismissed criticisms of refusing to join the Fair Food Program.

“Wendy’s does not participate in the Fair Food Program because there is no nexus between the program and our supply chain,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Since 2019, Wendy’s has sourced our North American tomato supply exclusively from indoor, hydroponic greenhouse farms, while the Fair Food Program predominantly operates in outdoor, conventional tomato growing environments. Further, Wendy’s has an established Supplier Code of Conduct that applies to significant suppliers of The Wendy’s Company and our North American restaurant system, and we also require third-party reviews related to the human rights and labor practices for suppliers of certain hand-harvested, whole, fresh produce such as tomatoes.”

CIW criticized Wendy’s explanation, citing they could either switch supplies to those used in the Fair Food Program or bring their current supplies into the program. They also criticized Wendy’s audits as voluntary and inadequate due to lack of input from workers and a lack of record of enforcement.

“Customs and Border Protection have gone on the record to say social audits don’t work and the Fair Food Program does,” the coalition said in a statement. “Buying preferentially from growers who meet the highest human rights standards is how the program works to end modern-day in the fields, and that’s what the rest of the fast-food industry did when they joined a decade ago: condition purchases on fair food program participation.”

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