DMI Blog

Kate Kelly

Immokalee Farmworkers Converage on Burger King Headquarters

A drive through the farmworker town of Immokalee - a leading source of our country's tomato supply, situated on the northern cusp of the Florida everglades - offers a glimpse of poverty so grim that one may feel like she has entered another country, or another time.

Next Friday, if a certain fast-food company has still not rectified the exploitative conditions faced daily by the people who pick the tomatoes used in their royally-themed restaurants, a huge convergence on its executives offices should adequately put the worlds #2 burger giant on official notice: Serfs up, Kings down!

On November 30, over a hundred Florida farmworkers -- members of the award-winning community group, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers(CIW) -- will board buses to pay a visit to their metropolitan neighbor to the east, Miami. The tomato pickers will be joined by hundreds of young allies from across the country on a 9-mile march through the Magic City's streets and its soulful culmination at Burger Kings corporate offices.

So what is the CIW so riled up about? Tomato pickers earn only 40-45 cents for every 32-pound bucket they fill - a pay rate that has not risen significantly since 1978. Accordingly, in order to make the equivalent of minimum wage in an average day, one must pick and haul nearly two and a half tons of tomatoes. But in the most extreme cases of labor abuse, farmworkers
are actually enslaved and forced to labor against their will.

In the last decade, the CIW has unearthed, investigated and helped to prosecute five separate farmworker slavery operations in Florida, resulting in their selection as winner of the prestigious 2007 Anti-Slavery Award, given by the worlds oldest international human rights organization, Anti-Slavery International.

The CIW's efforts to correct these injustices came to focus on the fast-food world in 2001.Following four years of grassroots organizing, coalition building and boycotting, the CIW convinced Yum Brands (parent company of Taco Bell) to work with them to develop a precedent-setting agreement for fair food including:

* Taco Bell paying a penny more for every pound of tomatoes they buy directly to the tomato picker who harvested it

* A comprehensive Code of Conduct ensuring that severe labor abuses, such as violence and slavery, are not present in its tomato supply chain

* A voice for tomato pickers in the design and implementation of the accords

Two years after their victory over Yum Brands, in April 2007, the CIW signed a similar agreement with fast-food giant McDonald's. Weeks later, Yum announced they would be extending the agreement to all of their brands: KFC, A&W Restaurants, Long John Silvers and Pizza Hut.

Employing the domino effect for transformation of the heinously backward agricultural industry, and now armed with the support of the largest restaurant corporation on the planet (Yum Brands) plus the largest fast food corporation on the planet (McDonald's), the CIW has moved to the next company on its list: Burger King.

Burger King has refused the CIW's efforts to work together in addressing sub-poverty wages and labor abuses, instead employing cheap tricks and outright lies to resist the change the CIW is proposing. Burger King has recently partnered with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE) -- the states lobby of farm owners (those whose industry is plagued with the labor abuses and slavery cases) for a PR assault on the CIW, going so far as to claim that tomato pickers make $12-18 an hour!

Most alarming perhaps is a recent declaration by the FTGE of their intentions to destroy the CIWs historic penny-per-pound agreements with Yum Brands and McDonald's. By all appearances, the leaders of the growers lobby seem to be trying to strong-arm other growers from passing the extra penny-per-pound from Yum Brands and McDonald's to the tomato pickers,even though it costs them nothing to do so. Talk about control issues!

Burger King now has a choice to make. It can continue to join the FTGE and their antiquated agenda of unending injustice or they can cooperate with the CIW to bring justice to the fields of Florida. As allies of the CIW and their courageous vision, our generation is charged with putting pressure on Burger King and the rest of the fast food world to end their resistance to progress and join in the collective development of a socially responsible society.

The upcoming actions in Miami will signal to Burger King and others that the era of medieval labor relations is over, that fair food will reign.

Kate Kelly: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 4:37 PM, Nov 29, 2007 in Labor
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