The Coalition of Immokalee Workers started a boycott of an iconic central Ohio-based fast-food chain over a year ago. This was after the company stopped sourcing its tomatoes from Florida instead of joining the CIW’s Fair Food Program to protect Florida farmworkers from exploitation.

Wendy’s has responded to the boycott by quibbling over why they don’t want to pay a penny-per-pound premium for Florida tomatoes to support a living wage for the workers who harvest them. One thing that Wendy’s spokespersons don’t want to talk about is sexual violence in the agricultural industry.

On October 23, women of the CIW led a protest in the rain outside Wendy’s Dublin headquarters to raise awareness of widespread sexual harassment and rape in Mexican agribusinesses, where Wendy’s now sources tomatoes and other produce. They were joined by faith communities and members of the Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA) at Ohio State University.

“This past week, more than 12 million people spoke out to share personal stories of sexual violence, using the hashtag #MeToo,” said Reyna Lusson of the SFA.  “One of the largest demographics who participated was students, across all genders and identities.  Many cases of campus sexual assault go unreported, for fear of backlash from authorities and peers.

“Another demographic that faces a striking amount of sexual violence that goes largely unreported is farmworker women,” Lusson said. “Pressure to exchange sex for daily work and other unwanted advances from supervisors are everyday occurrences for farmworker women, who are forced to choose between their dignity and feeding their families.”

25% of women experience sexual harassment or sexual violence in the workplace overall. In the agricultural industry, the figure is higher than 80%.

“Under the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program, workers can safely and anonymously report abuses without fear of retribution,” said Alex Hoey of the SFA.  “We’re calling on Wendy’s to witness this ongoing struggle and take a stand against sexual violence in the workplace by joining the Fair Food Program. 

“We are also here today to condemn Ohio State University’s complicity in these ongoing human rights abuses,” Hoey said.  Despite years of students and community members demanding that Wendy’s be kicked off campus, the OSU administration quietly re-signed their contract with Wendy’s after students had left for the summer.  As students and farmworkers cry, ‘Me Too,’ OSU and Wendy’s respond with ‘Too Bad.’”

Wendy’s touts its own Supplier Code of Conduct. But unlike the CIW’s program, workers’ voices are excluded and there are no defined consequences for growers who violate human rights.

 “We want Wendy’s to come back from Mexico, and buy tomatoes from Florida farms that participate in the Fair Food Program,” said CIW member Silvia Perez. “We only get to come here a couple of times a year, but we will continue until Wendy’s signs the agreement.”

Meanwhile the Wendy’s Company has other concerns. Remodeling its restaurants has been increasing sales, but it requires a big investment. The Columbus Dispatch reported that the remodels cost an average of $550,000 and rebuilds can run over $1 million. Wendy’s is planning job cuts at its headquarters to offset some of that cost.

A better plan would be to join the Fair Food Program, bringing back tens of thousands of former customers who have joined the boycott.

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