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The boycott of Wendy’s

Courtesy of Wikimedia

On November 19, 2007, Lucas Mariano Domingo, an undocumented worker, broke out of the box truck in which he was being held in slavery for a tomato-picking operation in southern Florida. As a slave, he had been beaten numerous times and forced to work under threat of more beatings and even death. He alerted the police, and the slave-trading operation was eventually uncovered and dismantled.

Tomato pickers Abraham Candelario and Francisca Herrera have a different story, one that begins with hope. Several years ago, they were preparing to welcome their first child, Carlos, into the world. However, he arrived with neither arms nor legs. Carlos is one of many babies born to Florida’s tomato pickers that suffers from a severe deformity. Birth defects were a regular occurrence, linked to the toxic chemicals that were sprayed on the tomato fields where the pickers worked.

These stories have two things in common. The first is their depiction of the conditions many tomato pickers in southern Florida face, conditions that are also characterized by stagnant sub-poverty wages and a history of the denial of basic labor rights. The second is that both practices — slavery and the spraying of certain toxic chemicals — as well as the others were ended in large part by the efforts of a single group: The Coalition of Immokalee Workers. The Coalition, an organization of and for southern Florida’s tomato pickers, has been recognized nationally for its work improving the livelihoods of a population that is among the most marginalized in the country. It has succeeded in introducing reforms that have changed the conditions faced by these farm workers. Its Fair Food Program, which among other things has created codes of conduct to reduce forced labor, sexual assault and other abusive practices, has been signed on to by numerous supermarkets and chain restaurants.

And this is where Wendy’s comes in. Rather than signing on to the Fair Food Program, Wendy’s, alone among the five major fast food companies, has decided to abandon Florida altogether and import its tomatoes from farms in Mexico that engage in many of the same practices that were successfully eliminated by the CIW in southern Florida. For instance, they purchase tomatoes from Bioparques de Occidente, an operation that was recently raided and prosecuted by the Mexican government because of the subhuman conditions under which its workers were toiling. As a result, for only the second time in its nearly twenty-five year history, the CIW has called for a boycott. It is asking people not to eat at Wendy’s until it signs on to the Fair Food Program.

This is not a matter that is distant from us here in Clemson. I recently confirmed with local Wendy’s management that both the Wendy’s at Schilletter and on 123 obtain their tomatoes through the national chain and are therefore complicit in these. Every burger, order of french fries and drink that is ordered at Wendy’s serves the cause of injustice toward one of the most vulnerable groups of workers in our country. Or, to put the point more positively, every time one of us forgoes the temptation for a Wendy’s burger (or even better — a salad!) in order to buy from Burger King or McDonald’s, we are acting in support of those farm workers.

The conditions of tomato pickers, like those of many people who work in our agricultural fields, are difficult even in the best of times. Boycotting Wendy’s at this moment will show them that we value their work and stand with them in their struggle to bring justice to the tomato fields. It is a small enough sacrifice for each of us to make, but if we make it together we can contribute to the betterment of some of our hardest working and most vulnerable men and women as well as to the health and well-being of their children.

For more information on the boycott, you can visit the website www.boycott–

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