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Fair food advocates urge Wendy's shareholders to support farm worker rights

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On Wednesday about 70 protesters greeted shareholders arriving at the Wendy's corporate headquarters in Dublin, Ohio for the company's annual meeting of stockholders. The protesters chanted and held signs, urging Wendy's to support fair pay and safe working conditions for farm workers by joining the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' Fair Food Program.

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One of many Jewish leaders across the country who support the CIW, Rabbi Misha Zinkow of Temple Israel in Columbus called on Wendy's "to work with the CIW and the Florida tomato industry to address the sub-poverty wages and human rights abuses faced by farm workers who pick their tomatoes."

For the past 30 years farm laborers in Florida have been subjected to stagnant wages, violence, and sexual harassment, Rabbi Zinkow said. "We know that some progress has been made, thanks to a partnership between farm workers, tomato growers, and 12 leading food corporations. The Fair Food Program is building a new tomato industry that advances human rights and the dignity of farm workers," he said.

"Given its market power, Wendy's participation in the Fair Food Program is a moral obligation. Of the five largest fast food companies in the country, why is Wendy's the only one not participating in the Fair Food Program?"

Four representatives from the vigil who had shareholder proxies were permitted to attend the stockholder meeting. Inside the meeting, CIW member Gerardo Reyes Chavez addressed Wendy's CEO Emil Brolick. "Participating in the Fair Food Program means committing to cut purchases from growers who violate farm workers' rights, the very obligation that makes the Program successful," he said. "Furthermore, it includes paying the Fair Food Premium to alleviate the poverty of farm workers in your supply chain. Both of these commitments Wendy’s has refused to make."

In response, Brolick reiterated his company's statement that Wendy's only purchases tomatoes from growers who participate in the Fair Food Program.

"I am perplexed, Mr. Brolick, by the nonsensical explanation you gave your shareholders a few moments ago," responded Nancy Powers, a resident of Dublin and professor at Kenyon College. "Asserting that Wendy's only purchases its tomatoes from Fair Food Program farms is a meaningless statement unless you also commit to joining the system of accountability and transparency that goes with the Fair Food Program.

"Wendy's has not made any commitment, for example, to stop purchasing at farms where sexual harassment occurs with impunity," Powers said. "Walmart, McDonald's, and ten other companies, on the other hand, have joined the Program and are now working as partners in the system to identify and eliminate abusive conditions."

Student/Farmworker Alliance member Sara Stanger asked Wendy's board of directors why the company is not applying its core value "Do the Right Thing" in respect to ending human rights abuses for farm workers. "I was met only with silence from the board members and Mr. Brolick," she said.