Brown University students and Providence community members held a rally in the pouring rain outside the Wendy’s on 391 Charles Street Saturday afternoon. The rally is part of a national coordinated effort by the Student/Farmworker Alliance with protests in over a dozen cities, titled “Pulling Back the Curtain on Wendy’s” National Week of Action. Protesters sought to amplify the national boycott of Wendy’s and expose the hamburger chain’s refusal to protect farmworkers’ human rights by joining the Presidential Medal-winning Fair Food Program.
Even before the rally began, a manager from the Wendy’s was outside, yelling at the protesters to stay off Wendy’s property. The police arrived about ten minutes later, but the rally was entirely peaceful. Passersby honked horns in solidarity as the rallyers chanted and held signs. Three members of the group delivered a letter explaining the importance of the Fair Food Program to the manager inside the restaurant, then came out to report back to the rest.
All of Wendy’s top competitors – McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Chipotle, and Taco Bell – have joined the Fair Food Program years ago and have helped to virtually end sexual assault and other human rights abuses for over 35,000 farmworkers in seven states and three crops. The United Nations has called the Program “an international benchmark” for human rights protections, and the Fair Food Program was recognized as “one of the most important social-impact stories of the past century” in the Harvard Business Review in 2017.
Instead of joining the Fair Food Program, Wendy’s plans to shift its purchases to greenhouses in the United States and Canada and continue to rely on a discredited model of superficial third-party auditing to monitor conditions in its supply chain. Labor law experts and academics have roundly criticized monitoring programs that lack worker participation and effective enforcement mechanisms such as the auditing schemes used by Wendy’s.
Hundreds of thousands of consumers and institutions have already publicly committed to Boycott Wendy’s until the company joins the Fair Food Program. The rally follows Wendy’s recent decision to repatriate tomato purchases from the abuse-ridden Mexican agricultural industry in response to consumers’ human rights concerns, and will protest Wendy’s ongoing refusal to guarantee farmworkers in its supply chain work free from sexual harassment and forced labor through the Fair Food Program’s unprecedented protections.
The Providence action takes place amidst a national student campaign to “Boot the Braids,” a swiftly growing initiative to sever university contracts with Wendy’s as part of the national boycott of the fast-food company, declared by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in 2016. Support for the national Wendy’s Boycott include major endorsements from the Presbyterian Church (USA), the National Council of Churches, and United States Women’s Soccer superstar Abby Wambach.
The Fair Food Program is a groundbreaking partnership among farmworkers, Florida tomato growers, and 14 major food retailers, including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Walmart, heralded as “the best workplace-monitoring program” in the United States on the front page of the New York Times. Participating retailers agree to purchase exclusively from suppliers who meet a worker-driven Code of Conduct, which includes a zero-tolerance policy for slavery and sexual harassment. Retailers also pay a “penny-per-pound” premium, which is passed down through the supply chain and paid out directly to workers by their employers. Since the Program’s inception in 2011, buyers have paid over $28 million into the Fair Food Program. Today, the Program extends to seven states from Florida to New Jersey and three crops.
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