Shining a light on labor issues

HARLINGEN — Boycott Wendy!

Justice for farm workers!

Comida justa!

You might have seen a group of people Wednesday afternoon outside the Wendy’s on Dixieland Road.

This small group of protesters, carrying red and yellow signs with a distorted Wendy’s logo, was yelling out to fight what they believe is injustice.

However small, they are a portion of a larger issue.

The campaign is led nationally by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an activist group that represents tomato harvesters in the Immokalee region of Florida.

Their signature program is called the Fair Food Program and for several years, they have encouraged Wendy’s to sign the Fair Food Agreement and join their program.

For more than three years, farm workers and consumers have been demanding that Wendy’s join its major competitors –– in participating in the Fair Food Program said protester Héctor Guzmán López.

Lopez who is also a coordinator with Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center said Wendy’s in particular has opted to consciously and shamefully profit from farm worker poverty and abuse, continuing to cling to the low-bar standards of the past when presented with an acclaimed and proven alternative.

More than 10 corporations have signed on. They are paying pennies more to farm workers, Lopez said.


In 2010, Fuerza del Valle Workers Center was launched to address the rampant problem of wage theft in the Rio Grande Valley.

It began as a project of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network’s Jobs Working Group and has developed into a full-fledged workers center.

Fuerza’s mission is to help workers discover their power and create solutions to the problems they experience at work. The group works as a mobile center so that they can reach out to workers across the Valley’s vast geographic area.

They hold weekly know-your-rights clinics around the Valley where workers come to the clinics to learn about labor protections, how to track their hours and document abuses, and to figure out a plan to resolve problems.

They also aim to stop wage theft, to guarantee the rights of domestic workers, and to improve the state’s dangerous and low-paying construction industry.

By shining a light on the region’s most pressing labor issues, the group has won important cases in court and improvements at job sites, and recovered more than $200,000 in unpaid wages.

The Fair Food Program: Who participates?

Ahold USA

Fresh Market



Mexican Grill

Trader Joe’s


Compass Group

Bon Appétit Management Company


Whole Foods Market

Burger King


Yum Brands


Wendy’s has not only refused to join the Fair Food Program (FFP), but has stopped buying tomatoes from Florida since the implementation of the FFP there.

Rather than support an industry setting new standards for human rights, Wendy’s took its tomato purchases to Mexico, where workers continue to confront wage theft, sexual harassment, child labor, and even slavery without access to protections.

Instead of joining the FFP and its widely-acclaimed, uniquely successful worker-driven model of social responsibility, Wendy’s released a new supplier code of conduct that contains no effective mechanisms for worker participation or enforcement.

Wendy’s new code represents the very worst of the traditional corporate approach to social responsibility driven by public relations rather than human rights. Wendy’s stands alone as the last of the five major fast food corporations in the country to refuse to join the FFP.

By refusing to join, Wendy’s is deriving a very real cost advantage over its competitors, while continuing to provide an alternative market for less reputable growers.

Rather than participate in what was called the “best workplace-monitoring program” in the U.S. in the New York Times, Wendy’s ran from responsibility and abandoned the Florida tomato industry altogether, said coordinator with Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center Héctor Guzmán López.

In response to increasing pressure from consumers to join the Fair Food Program, Wendy’s released a new code of conduct for its suppliers, an example of the failed, widely-discredited approach to corporate social responsibility that is completely void of effective enforcement mechanisms to protect farm workers’ human rights.


The CIW’s actions show that they believe the only way for a company to act responsibly is to join their program and pay their fees.

Wendy’s disagrees.

The CIW requires participants to pay an additional fee directly to the tomato harvesters that work for the growers, on top of the price they already pay for the product.

“We have always prided ourselves on our relationships with industry-leading suppliers who share our commitment to quality, integrity and ethics.

We support the goals of any organization that seeks to improve human rights, but we don’t believe we should pay another company’s employees – just as we do not pay factory workers, truck drivers or maintenance personnel that work for our other suppliers,” according to a statement issued by Wendy’s on the subject.

The Fair Food program primarily operates in Florida and Wendy’s does not currently purchase tomatoes in Florida.

For years, CIW has asked companies like Wendy’s to join their program.

“In recent years, the tomato industry in Mexico has invested tremendous energy into innovation in tomato cultivation, and has made dramatic improvements in fresh produce sorting, handling and distribution.

Leading produce suppliers in Mexico are critical trading partners for our company and many others. Many produce companies in Mexico are bringing great products to the U.S. market and consumers are benefiting from it.

And given the growth of the Mexico tomato industry, it’s clear that Wendy’s is far from alone in sourcing this way,” Wendy’s stated.

Wendy’s disagrees with the CIW in their belief that they should focus on a single group of people – in this case, tomato harvesters in Florida – and assign them additional pay without having an employment relationship with them.

“All of us in the food supply chain have an obligation to ensure that the products we sell have been raised and harvested in a responsible way.

We’re always open to having constructive conversations and we’ll continue to strive for progress.

We require responsible business practices in our supply chain and will continue to work to bring greater transparency to these practices so that our customers can continue to feel confident in the brand we love and the values upon which it was built,” Wendy’s stated.