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Wendy’s, You Can Do So Much Better

Over spring break, I found out that Wendy’s has refused to sign onto the Fair Food Program (FFP), a partnership among farmers, farmworkers, and retail food companies that strives to ensure farmworkers receive fair wages and good working conditions. The FFP is a comprehensive and successful model that pushes for social responsibility in the agricultural industry.

To accomplish its goal, the FFP sets forth the following standards:

  1. Participating buyers agree to pay the Fair Food Premium (a penny more per pound) in addition to the normal price they pay for tomatoes to supplement farmworkers’ paychecks.

  2. Buyers agree not to purchase produce from growers who do not comply with the FFP’s Code of Conduct.

To ensure that these standards are met, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) holds worker education sessions to inform them of their rights as well as provides a “Know Your Rights and Responsibilities” booklet to newly hired employees. Also, a bilingual investigator operates a 24/7 complaint line for workers to report violations of their rights and the FFP conducts in-depth audits of the participating farms.

Since its creation in 2011, the FFP has already shown some very promising results (listed in the graphic below).

After learning about all of the great things the FFP has done in just five years, I was shocked that Wendy’s—a fast-food restaurant I love and have frequented since I was a kid—refused to join. I couldn’t understand the company’s actions and was disappointed by its failure to support such a worthy cause, so I confronted them by sending this letter:

 

The Wendy’s Company

One Dave Thomas Blvd.

Dublin, OH 43017

 

Dear Wendy’s,

Some of my fondest childhood memories took place at Wendy’s. My grandmother babysat me nearly every day from the time I was an infant until I was eight, and as soon as I was old enough, she would take me to the local Wendy’s in Sunbury, Ohio. Once a week, she bought me my usual meal: a baked potato, chicken nuggets, and chocolate frosty. I loved that weekly trip, and I still enjoy that same meal as a young adult. Wendy’s has always been my go-to fast food restaurant. Whether I am coming home from college to visit my mom or out looking for a quick bite to eat with my boyfriend, I usually say, “Let’s go to Wendy’s!”

However, after learning about your company’s refusal to sign onto the Fair Food Program and, more recently, your decision to move to tomato suppliers in Mexico instead of working with your previous supplier, I cannot and will not continue to eat at Wendy’s.

I am extremely disappointed in your company’s failure to “Do the Right Thing and Treat People with Respect,” a core set of values cited in your very own Code of Conduct For Suppliers. Wendy’s says it believes its “success begins and ends with our people and the Supplier companies that have been thoughtfully selected to do business with us,” and I agree. But if that is the case, why have you decided to switch suppliers? Currently, it seems like you have abandoned your tomato supplier in Florida after the implementation of the Fair Food Program and begun to purchase tomatoes from Mexico, where widespread human rights abuses in the produce industry were just reported by the Los Angeles Times last year. This blatantly contradicts Wendy’s Code of Conduct For Suppliers, which states that the company takes “all human rights and labor practices issues seriously and expect the same from our Suppliers.” Rather than just “expecting” your suppliers to behave in accordance with human rights and fair labor laws, Wendy’s should require its suppliers to meet its Code of Conduct. Otherwise, the company condones human rights abuses such as labor trafficking, poor working conditions, and denial of fair wages.

Additionally, the Code of Conduct proudly states that, “nearly 90 percent of Wendy’s operations are located in the U.S., and most of Wendy’s food is sourced through American farms and ranches,” yet the company has decided to turn its back on the Florida farmworkers and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) that reached out to Wendy’s, asking for just a penny more per pound of tomatoes to ensure they receive fair wages and good working conditions. If you truly value business with your suppliers, then why did you refuse to support their cause—a cause that appears to match Wendy’s own principles?

At the beginning of this year, Wendy’s announced its intentions to have cage-free eggs in all restaurants by 2020, a great endeavor for the company. But working with produce suppliers who treat workers with respect and afford them their basic human rights should be equally as important to the company. I believe animals should be treated kindly, but I believe even more strongly that we must treat our fellow human beings with dignity.

McDonald’s, Subway, Taco Bell, Burger King, and Chipotle have all agreed to participate in the Fair Foods Program, and I was sure that Wendy’s would sign on, too. Sadly, I was mistaken. When buyers outside the fast food industry such as Walmart and Sodexo joined the program, Wendy’s still refused to participate. I do not understand why a company that endorses important causes such as the Dave Thomas Foundation For Adoption, while also expressing values related to fair treatment of workers, continues to reject an equally important cause. Your support—in the form of one penny more per pound of tomatoes—would help further the CIW’s mission to improve the standards of the entire tomato supply chain and ensure farmworkers receive the wages and respect they deserve. The Coalition is a passionate and dedicated group, and agreeing to work with them is crucial for Wendy’s to prove that it will enforce its Code of Conduct and that its statement of values is not just an empty promise. Now, with CIW’s National Boycott of the company, Wendy’s has another chance to Do The Right Thing. Until you embrace that chance, Wendy’s has lost my respect as well as my patronage

Sincerely,

Melissa Layton

I have not yet received a response from any of the Wendy’s executives to whom I wrote, but CIW is still encouraging consumers to boycott the restaurant. Within the past week, Harper’s Magazine published an article revealing that Wendy’s tomato supplier in Mexico is Bioparques de Occidente, a farm that has committed serious human rights abuses, such as withholding wages from workers, forcing workers to remain on the farm against their will, and providing poor living and working conditions for the workers and their families—in short, human trafficking. You can watch a news clip about the case against the farm here.

Plenty of other companies have joined the FFP. Though some resisted at first, they eventually agreed to support the program. Only Wendy’s has completely turned away from the Florida farmworkers, and I will not support a company that condones human trafficking.

To learn more about the CIW, visit its website. If you want to join the boycott, you can make a pledge here to support the CIW’s fight for the respect and dignity of farmworkers.

Image Credit: DC Fair Food, CIW, Fair Food Program

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