In the fight for fair labor practices in the U.S. food industry, grass-roots organizing by conscientious consumers has been taking an increasing role. A case in point is Friday afternoon, when a dozen members of the Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA) gathered at Mirror Lake on the OSU campus and marched to the Wendy’s restaurant in the Wexner Medical Center as part of the “Schooling Wendy’s” national week of action.
“Our march to Wendy’s today is one of over 20 marches, letter deliveries, and demonstrations at campuses across the country — campuses with Wendy’s on campus and near campus — to tell Wendy’s to listen to what students and farmworkers are asking them to do: join the Fair Food Program,” said SFA member Ben Wibking. “Until then, students across the country will be boycotting Wendy’s and getting our universities to cut ties with Wendy's until they do the right thing by farmworkers.”
For decades, farm laborers in Florida have harvested tomatoes and other fresh produce for stagnant, sub-poverty wages, under harsh working conditions. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program begins at the top of the food supply chain, with consumers who demand that large food retailers source their produce only from growers who pay fair wages and treat their workers in accordance with national and international human rights standards — including a zero-tolerance policy for slavery and sexual harassment.
“Tens of thousands of Florida farmworkers are experiencing never-before-seen rights as a result of the Fair Food Program,” said Santiago Perez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. “We seek now to continue to expand those basic human rights protections to the hundreds of thousands of workers beyond the tomato fields and beyond Florida — but Wendy’s participation in the Program is essential to that expansion.”
Student activists have been engaged in the struggle for farmworker rights since 2005, when they had an essential role in the CIW’s first successful campaign with Taco Bell. “As students and educators go back to school, we in Columbus are more conscious than ever of the many ways Wendy’s has failed to make the grade with regard to farmworker rights: dignified wages and working conditions, the prevention of violence and forced labor, and respect for workers’ voices, to name a few,” said SFA member Amanda Ferguson. “As students, we will not stop our call to Wendy’s until they join the proven solution to farmworker abuses in their supply chain.”
Of the five largest fast food corporations in the United States, only Wendy’s has refused to sign an agreement the CIW to bring fair pay and safe working conditions to farmworkers.