Video and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Brown University students affiliated with a farmworker rights group recently protested outside a Wendy’s restaurant as part of a nationwide boycott of the fast-food chain.
The goal of the Oct. 27 protest and others like it across the country in recent days wasn’t to boost pay and benefits for restaurant employees but instead aimed to shame Wendy’s into adopting a program to combat sexual assault, wage theft, and human rights abuses in its produce supply chain, particularly in the tomato fields of Florida.
Since it started in 2011, the Fair Food Program has helped 35,000 farmworkers affiliated with three crops in seven states. The program has been embraced by Burger King, Chipotle, McDonald’s, Subway, Taco Bell, Walmart, and Whole Foods. All have agreed to buy from suppliers who employ rules of conduct, which includes policies against forced labor and sexual harassment. Retailers also pay a penny-per-pound fee on produce that is paid directly to workers through their employers. Growers are audited for adherence to the rules and workers have a 24-hour hotline for complaints. Growers that fail to comply are suspended from the purchasing chain by restaurants and food retailers.
Instead of adopting the Fair Food Program, Wendy’s follows a voluntary code of conduct for its suppliers and recently announced a plan to shift its purchases from Mexico to greenhouses in the United States and Canada. Workers’ rights advocates say Wendy’s policies are inadequate.
“Wendy’s must join the Fair Food Program,” said the workers’ advocacy group Coalition of Immokalee Workers. “The farmworkers in Wendy’s tomato supply chain deserve to enjoy the same, best-in-class human rights protections as workers in the supply chains of Wendy’s competitors.”
The Brown University Student Farmworker Alliance is part of the national Student/Farmworker Alliance. The recent “Pulling Back the Curtain” protest was one of more than a dozen across the country targeting Wendy’s. College students at other schools are also pushing their administrators to terminate contracts with campus Wendy’s restaurants.
“Every day, people are in the field facing sexual harassment and low wages,” said Brown University student Emma Galvin during the rain-soaked protest outside the Wendy’s on Charles Street.