Amid Grammy-winning acts on a hot stage in sunny St. Petersberg, Fla., on Sunday, a group of students took the mic to make an announcement: Due to unfair labor practices, they will be leading a nationwide boycott of fast food giant Wendy’s. For two years now, the Fair Food Program has pressured Wendy’s to “eliminate farmworker poverty and abuse,” according to a press statement, as part of a campaign known as “Boot the Braids.” Until the burger chain joins the Fair Food Program, the campaign argues, it has no place on university campuses. Sunday’s announcement, during the Fair Food Concert, is just the latest escalation in a series of corporate-aimed partnerships between student and farmworker organizers.
The Fair Food Program, or FFP, is a worker-driven, workplace oversight mechanism developed by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a union of largely Spanish-speaking tomato growers in Florida. The FFP aims to ensure that major contractors establish a Fair Food Code of Conduct with the tomato growers they hire out in Florida. The code stipulates binding regulations on growers’ working conditions, including such measures as wages, break time and child labor. The CIW has also built in worker education programs, distributing 100,000 packets of “know your rights” materials and education to 22,000 tomato farmers face-to-face. Currently, 30,000 workers — 90 percent of Florida’s tomato industry — receive protection under the FFP. “More important than the money, which I need, was the feeling of dignity when my labor — the buckets I harvested — was recognized,” said one worker in a testimony on the FFP’s website.
Much of the dispute focuses on where fast food chains source their tomatoes and the all-too-frequent sweatshop-like conditions found there. Burger King, McDonald’s and Subway have all signed onto the FFP, rendering Wendy’s something of an industry outsider with respect to the agreement. According to a student activist working on the campaign, “All of Wendy’s fast food competitors have committed to buy only from farms, where farmworkers are guaranteed basic human rights, and yet Wendy’s has so far rejected that responsibility.”
As Geoff Gilbert reported for Waging Nonviolence earlier this month, the CIW and Campaign for Fair Food went on tour to promote the “Beat the Braids” campaign earlier this month. The boycott is being led by the Student/Farmworker Alliance, or SFA, a close collaboration between college students and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers; the two organizations even share an office in Immokalee, Fla. Together, they led a similar campaign over a decade ago — also with an alliterative name, “Boot the Bell” — that looked to end university contracts with Taco Bell over its failure to sign onto the FFP.
That campaign involved active support from students on some 300 campuses nationwide, and the successful cancellation of 25 contracts. In addition to the SFA, the CIW further works with Interfaith Action and Just Harvest USA to raise the issue of farmworkers’ rights across multiple constituencies. By seeking out a diverse range of allies, the CIW has been able to punch above its weight, and secure historic victories and 13 FFP commitments from corporate food sellers.