On October 7 members and supporters of the Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA) held a rally outside Bricker Hall at the Ohio State University, calling on the administration to terminate its contract with the Wendy’s Corporation. The fast food chain has lucrative contracts with universities across the country. Wendy’s operates a restaurant in the Wexner Medical Center at OSU.

Two years ago OSU administrators signed an agreement with the SFA, promising to end its contract with Wendy’s if the fast food chain did not make a verifiable commitment to fair labor practices in its Florida tomato supply chain. This would have meant joining the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program, which includes a commitment to source its produce only from farms that provide fair pay and safe working conditions to their workers. The program also includes a zero-tolerance policy for slave labor and sexual harassment.

Wendy’s has tried to skirt the issue by sourcing its tomatoes outside of Florida and beyond the reach of the Fair Food Program. One of Wendy’s sources is Bioparques de Occidente, an agribusiness giant in Mexico that was the subject of a major slavery prosecution in 2013.

The deadline for Ohio to renew its contract with Wendy’s is approaching. At Bricker Hall, SFA members delivered a letter to OSU president Michael Drake, reminding him about the university’s commitment to terminate the contract. “Drake, keep your promises!” the demonstrators chanted. President Drake was not available, but a staff member promised that he would get the letter.

 “Wendy’s is quick to offer their Supplier Code of Conduct, released last year, as their substitute for the Fair Food Program — and their reason for not joining,” said Coalition of Immokalee Workers member Oscar Otzoy. “But without any effective measures for enforcement or worker participation, Wendy’s code does not measure up to a commitment to the Fair Food Program.”

Through the autumn the CIW is on a national “Behind the Braids” tour to raise awareness of Wendy’s subterfuge. “Wendy’s cannot continue to hide behind empty standards any longer,” Otzoy said.  

“The Fair Food Program is substantially more successful than other corporate compliance programmes in the labour standards area,” concluded international labor law expert Professor James Brudney in a new textbook on ethical labor standards for migrant workers.

The Student/Farmworker Alliance at OSU plans to meet with the university’s administration on Wednesday, October 12.