Wendy’s, What Are You Waiting For?: Calling on the Fast Food Giant to Stand up For Farmworkers May 18, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Food, Human Rights, Immigration, Labor.
Tags: agriculture, anna lappe, christina bronsing, fair food, farm labor, fast food chains, immokalee, immokalee workers, labor, labour, roger hollander, taco bell, wendy's, workers rights
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Who has freckles, pigtails, and is still holding out from joining the Fair Food Program? If you guessed the fresh-faced mascot of Wendy’s, give yourself a gold star. As part of its efforts to improve conditions in the fields, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group of farmworkers based in Florida, is calling on the fast food giant Wendy’s to step up for farmworkers and their families.
The Coalition has had an impressive wave of wins as many companies — eleven to date — have signed an agreement to improve conditions for farmworkers. Of the top five fast food chains, McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, and Yum! Brands (owners of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC and A&W) have all joined the Fair Food Program. In response to pressure from the Coalition and its allies, the list has grown to include Chipotle, food retailers (Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s), and food service companies (BAMCO, Aramark, Sodexo and Compass Group). The overwhelming majority of tomato growers now participate in this farmworker-driven commitment through the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, which represents 90 percent of the industry.
By signing on to the agreement, companies must now comply with a code of conduct that includes protections for cases of wage theft, sexual harassment, and forced labor. Companies also agree to pay a small premium for tomatoes — just a penny more per pound. As a result, workers have safer working conditions and have started seeing increases in their paychecks for the first time in more than 30 years.
Think a penny a pound doesn’t sound like much? It adds up. Over $10 million has been paid out through these victories since January 2011. That number will only keep growing as more companies sign on.
Hey, Wendy’s, are you listening?
Wendy’s, of all companies, can afford paying this premium. One of the highest earning fast food chains in the country, Wendy’s comes in at number two behind McDonald’s. Nearly 6,600 restaurants in the U.S. and around the globe afford the company serious market power– influence that can go a long way to shift purchasing practices. Instead of leveraging that power to demand lower prices from suppliers, Wendy’s could be rewarding growers who respect workers’ rights.
Other fast food companies have stepped up, like Taco Bell. The fast food giant was the first company to sign on to the Coalition agreement back in 2005, after four years of pressure and organizing. In its announcement, Taco Bell said:
“As an industry leader, we are pleased to lend our support to and work with the CIW to improve working and pay conditions for farmworkers in the Florida tomato fields… We recognize there is a need for reform… We hope others in the restaurant industry and supermarket retail trade will follow our leadership.” – Emil Brolick, Taco Bell President (2005)
Brolick and Taco Bell showed that signing on to the agreement wouldn’t threaten a company’s bottom line. In fact, Brolick’s tenure is credited with boosting sales and ‘turning things around at Taco Bell. Proof that profits don’t come at the expense of workers’ rights.
Seven years later, Wendy’s is still dragging its feet instead of following Taco Bell’s example — or more accurately Brolick’s own example, since he has now taken over as CEO of Wendy’s.
This week, as Wendy’s convenes its annual shareholders’ meeting in New York City, the Coalition is in town to make sure the company has its priorities straight. On Saturday, May 18th, farmworkers and allies will march from Union Square to nearby Wendy’s locations, reminding shareholders that farmworkers aren’t an abstract budget line item, but hardworking women and men who deserve respect. (And, sure, to give Wendy’s CEO Emil Brolick a dose of déjà vu. He already has some experience with this, after all.)
If you’re in or around New York, show your support: join the march from Union Square this Saturday at 2pm. And if you’re miles from the action: raise your virtual voice and sign the e-petition!
As farmworker and organizer with the CIW, Gerardo Reyes Chávez says, “The change we are seeking is underway–and it is unstoppable. And it is unstoppable not because we say it is — but because there’s people like you taking action.”
Care about Your Food? Then Care about Your Farmworkers Too January 31, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Food, Human Rights, Labor.
Tags: fair food, farm workers, farmworker, farmworker wages, food, food justice, labor, labour, laura-anne minkoff-zern, organic farming, organic farms, organic food, roger hollander, worker rights
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It’s organic. It’s local. But did the workers who picked it have health insurance?
These days, most people involved in buying and advocating for local and organic food say they want to support their farmers. They imagine (Photo: MRader)
the people that grow their vegetables as sweating in the fields, cheerfully smiling as they pull carrots from their own land, which they till until the sun goes down.
The image of the independent and industrious farmer is upheld in places where “alternative” or sustainable food is sold and promoted, such as farmers markets and food stores, which often encourage consumers to “get to know their farmer.” Grocery stores that carry natural, local, and organic foods, such as Whole Foods and food purchasing cooperatives, commonly post large, glossy photographs of local growers.
But who, exactly, is a farmer? Is it the person who owns a farm? The person who sells food at a farmers’ market? Or could a farmer be the immigrant who follows the work from place to place and picks the fruit of the season?
Almost all farms, even small and organic ones, require hired help. In most cases, that consists of immigrant farmworkers who are paid less than a living wage.
People need to ask not only, where does my food come from, but also, who performs the labor to grow this food? For a food system to be truly sustainable, we must prioritize the well-being of workers as well as consumers.
For a food system to be truly sustainable, we must prioritize the well-being of workers as well as consumers.
Who’s behind your food?
Farm labor is one of only a few occupations exempt from most federal and state minimum wages and work-hour limitations. Of the farmworkers who responded to the most recent National Agricultural Workers’ Survey (NAWS), about one-third earned less than $7.25 an hour and only a quarter reported working more than nine months per calendar year. The California Institute for Rural Studies found that one-fourth of farmworkers live below the federal poverty line, and 55 percent are food insecure on average. (An individual or family is considered food insecure when members of a household lack access to enough food for an active, healthy life at all times, according to the USDA.)
In reality, however, farmworker conditions are even worse than those numbers suggest. Much of the research concerning farm labor is based on information gained from formal systems of employment, such as labor contractors. That leaves the majority of farm laborers who work informally, such as daily workers, unaccounted for.
Are conditions better on organic farms? Not as much as you’d think. Entry-level workers on organic farms in California make only 29 cents an hour more than their counterparts on non-organic farms do. That’s still less than a living wage.
And those workers on organic farms are actually less likely to have paid time off, health insurance for themselves and their families, and retirement or pension funds. Certified organic farmers have proven resistant to including labor standards in organic certification, according to a study published in 2006 in the journal Agriculture and Human Values.
Looking beyond the city
Some in the sustainable food movement work with the goal of directly addressing human rights issues in the food system. These groups and individuals make up what many call the “food justice movement.” Yet even in these circles, some organizations seem to have trouble focusing on the rights of farmworkers.
The Student/Farmworker Alliance has worked to bring farmworker injustice into the picture on college campuses.
Why are these workers so hard to see? Maybe it’s because most of our organizations are located in cities and staffed by young people attracted by urban life. Consider a group like Planting Justice, an organization in Oakland, Calif., which describes its work as “democratizing access to affordable, nutritious food.” It does this by “empowering disenfranchised urban residents with the skills, resources, and inspiration to maximize food production, economic opportunities, and environmental sustainability in our neighborhoods.”
Groups such as Planting Justice often work on initiatives to encourage and popularize urban gardening and to increase the availability of fresh food in poor urban neighborhoods. Although these are important efforts to improve the health of often underserved urban residents, they tend to limit the conversation to the urban core. Issues that affect rural places—including the plight of farmworkers—are left out of the discussion.
If the growing food justice movement is to truly confront injustice in the food system, it must address the rural poor as well as the urban poor. The fact that the workers who actually grow and harvest the food we’re talking about are also poor provides a natural opportunity for solidarity and makes this even more important to the movement.
Good news and next steps
Some in the food justice community are starting to work more broadly on issues of farm and food system labor, coordinating with farm, food processing, and restaurant worker unions. These new coalitions include The Food Chain Workers Alliance, The U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, The Rural Coalition, and the Student/Farmworker Alliance.
Working together, many groups are finding more power to motivate policy change and raise working standards, increasing the visibility of food worker issues in the mainstream food movement.
The Student/Farmworker Alliance, for example, has played a major role in the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Campaign for Fair Food, bringing farmworker injustice into the picture on college campuses. In addition, The Food Chain Workers Alliance is working directly with rural as well as urban food justice groups, bringing labor issues into the conversations of foodies who may previously have thought only about whether their carrots were local and not about whether the people who picked them had health insurance.
By working in coalition, people who are used to advocating for healthier food in urban centers are beginning to learn from rural activists, as well as the other way around. If we are to truly see the creation of a more just food system, then organizations, individuals, and communities that claim sustainable and food justice ideals must start to expand their vision for a food system that is just in both environmental and social terms. That may mean pushing for revised agricultural trade and immigration policy, including stricter labor regulations and higher minimum wages.
Both sustainable food proponents and food justice organizers have shown interest in addressing labor-related injustice. But to truly make that change, those that care about our food system must broaden their views of food sustainability to include the rights and health of all producers and consumers of food.
Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern has spent many years working on farms and with agriculture and food organizations in Guatemala, New York State, and California. She holds a doctorate in geography from the University of California, Berkeley, and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Goucher College in Maryland.
Tags: agribusiness, agriculture, capitalism, food, joanna blythman, nutrition, quinoa, thrid world
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Adventurous eaters liked its slightly bitter taste and the little white curls that formed around the grains. Vegans embraced quinoa as a credibly nutritious substitute for meat. Unusual among grains, quinoa has a high protein content (between 14%-18%), and it contains all those pesky, yet essential, amino acids needed for good health that can prove so elusive to vegetarians who prefer not to pop food supplements.
Sales took off. Quinoa was, in marketing speak, the “miracle grain of the Andes”, a healthy, right-on, ethical addition to the meat avoider’s larder (no dead animals, just a crop that doesn’t feel pain). Consequently, the price shot up – it has tripled since 2006 – with more rarified black, red and “royal” types commanding particularly handsome premiums.
But there is an unpalatable truth to face for those of us with a bag of quinoa in the larder. The appetite of countries such as ours for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fuelled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture.
In fact, the quinoa trade is yet another troubling example of a damaging north-south exchange, with well-intentioned health and ethics-led consumers here unwittingly driving poverty there. It’s beginning to look like a cautionary tale of how a focus on exporting premium foods can damage the producer country’s food security. Feeding our apparently insatiable 365-day-a-year hunger for this luxury vegetable, Peru has also cornered the world market in asparagus. Result? In the arid Ica region where Peruvian asparagus production is concentrated, this thirsty export vegetable has depleted the water resources on which local people depend. NGOs report that asparagus labourers toil in sub-standard conditions and cannot afford to feed their children while fat cat exporters and foreign supermarkets cream off the profits. That’s the pedigree of all those bunches of pricy spears on supermarket shelves.
Soya, a foodstuff beloved of the vegan lobby as an alternative to dairy products, is another problematic import, one that drives environmental destruction [see footnote]. Embarrassingly, for those who portray it as a progressive alternative to planet-destroying meat, soya production is now one of the two main causes of deforestation in South America, along with cattle ranching, where vast expanses of forest and grassland have been felled to make way for huge plantations.
Three years ago, the pioneering Fife Diet, Europe’s biggest local food-eating project, sowed an experimental crop of quinoa. It failed, and the experiment has not been repeated. But the attempt at least recognised the need to strengthen our own food security by lessening our reliance on imported foods, and looking first and foremost to what can be grown, or reared, on our doorstep.
In this respect, omnivores have it easy. Britain excels in producing meat and dairy foods for them to enjoy. However, a rummage through the shopping baskets of vegetarians and vegans swiftly clocks up the food miles, a consequence of their higher dependency on products imported from faraway places. From tofu and tamari to carob and chickpeas, the axis of the vegetarian shopping list is heavily skewed to global.
There are promising initiatives: one enterprising Norfolk company, for instance, has just started marketing UK-grown fava beans (the sort used to make falafel) as a protein-rich alternative to meat. But in the case of quinoa, there’s a ghastly irony when the Andean peasant’s staple grain becomes too expensive at home because it has acquired hero product status among affluent foreigners preoccupied with personal health, animal welfare and reducing their carbon “foodprint”. Viewed through a lens of food security, our current enthusiasm for quinoa looks increasingly misplaced.
• This footnote was appended on 17 January 2013. To clarify: while soya is found in a variety of health products, the majority of production – 97% according to the UN report of 2006 – is used for animal feed.
Farmers Rally at White House to Protest Monsanto’s GMO Empire January 11, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Food.
Tags: agri-business, agriculture, food, food democracy, food labeling, genetically engineered, genetically modified, gmo, monsanto, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: this is not a very high-profile issue, but it affects each and every one of us. We all eat food! Under capitalist economic relations, huge amounts of wealth (capital) accumulates, and this creates a kind of unstoppable power that has the capacity to smother small and independent enterprise. The result is that the interests of those who own and control capital trump the interests of the general public. The destruction of our environment and the material destruction caused by endless war are far more dramatic than the contamination of our food supply, but, as we used to say, “we are what we eat.”
As court hears pivotal case for small farmers and organic seed growers, opponents to industrial agriculture speak out
Hundreds of small farmers and advocates for organic seed growers gathered outside the White House Thursday, calling on President Obama and other lawmakers to come to their aid as they continue their fight against Monsanto, one of the world’s largest, most powerful—and to them sinister—industrial agriculture corporations.
(Image: Ecowatch.org) The farmers and citizens assembled demanded the end of Monsanto’s “campaign of intimidation against America’s family farmers” and their relentless push for GMO (or genetically engineered-GE) crops. The rally followed a court hearing earlier in the day in the ongoing and landmark Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al. v. Monsanto case, in which OSGATA and other plaintiffs sued the biotech firm for its continual and aggressive harassment of organic farmers and independent seed growers.
“Family farmers need and deserve the right to farm. We have a right to grow good food and good seed for our families and our communities without the threat of trespass and intimidation,” Jim Gerritsen, an organic potato farmer from Maine and President of OSGATA, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, told the enthusiastic crowd.
Since 1997, Monsanto has sued, or brought to court, more than 844 family farms over “patent infringement” after their GMO seeds spread to nearby farms. The legal battles are more than most small farmers can battle, and Monsanto’s size and financial muscle make it nearly impossible for individual farmers to fight back. Many are forced to settle and submit to Monsanto sanctions.
“We need Court protection so that our families will be able to carry on our farming tradition and help keep America strong,” said Gerritsen.
Those that gathered called for President Obama to fulfill his promise to support the labeling of all GMO products, and also halt pending approval of GE salmon until independent long-term safety tests can be conducted.
“America’s farmers deserve to be protected from unwanted contamination of their crops and the continued harassment by biotech seed giant Monsanto,” said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!, a grassroots farmer advocacy group and plaintiff in the case.
Additionally, he said, “our current regulatory structure here in the U.S. has failed America’s farmers and consumers. The Obama administration needs to do the right thing to protect our farmers and make sure that new GE crops go through rigorous safety tests,” said Murphy. “It’s time that President Obama live up to his campaign promise to Iowa farmers in 2007 and label genetically engineered foods. It’s the least that he could do.”
And the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:
The protest suggested an uptick in efforts to demand labeling, which was defeated in a California ballot initiative in November. Creve Coeur-based Monsanto spent at least $8 million in an industry-wide effort to sink the California proposition.
Vermont state Sen. David Zuckerman said at the rally that he is leading an effort in his state seeking legislation requiring labeling of genetically modified food.
Organic farmers, who are pressing a lawsuit against Monsanto, often complain that their products are threatened by wind-blown pollen from genetically altered crops.
“We want and demand the right of clean seed not contaminated by a massive biotech company that’s in it for the profit,” Carol Koury, who operates Sow True Seeds in Asheville, N.C., said at the rally.
Complete background on the OSGATA et al v. Monsanto lawsuit is available here.
A Death in the Family — and the Question Is: Whodunit? December 3, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Food, Labor.
Tags: harvey milk, hostess, hostess brands, jim hightower, labor, labour, ripplewood, roger hollander, trade unions, twinkie, twinkie defense, unions
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Born in 1930 in Schiller Park, Ill., the deceased was 82 years old at the time of passing, which ironically was the day before Thanksgiving.
Having long enjoyed the sweet life, the end was a bit bitter, for the dearly departed’s estate had been mercilessly plundered in recent years by unscrupulous money managers. This left 18,500 surviving family members in dire straits. Indeed, the family contends that the octogenarian’s death was not due to natural causes, but to foul play — a case of corporate murder.
This is the drama behind the sudden death of Twinkies. Fondly remembered as “the cream puff of the proletariat” (and less fondly as a sugar-and-fat bomb that delivered a toothache in one bite and a heart attack in the next), this industrial concoction of 37 ingredients became, for better or worse, an icon of American food processing.
The father of the Twinkie was James Dewar, a baker at the old Continental Baking Co. who saw the goo-filled tube cake as a way to keep the factory’s confection machinery busy after strawberry shortcake season ended. Yes, the Twinkie was actually conceived as “food” for idle machines. How fitting is that?
But us humans happily swallowed this extruded marvel of comestible engineering. As a teenager, I probably downed my weight in Twinkies each year — and my long years on this Earth might well be due to the heavy dose of preservatives, artificial flavors and other chemicals baked into every one of those cellophane-wrapped two-packs that I consumed.
The Twinkie was the best-seller of Hostess Brands, a conglomerate purveyor of some 30 nutritionally challenged (but moneymaking) brand-name food products, ranging from Wonder Bread to Ho Hos. In the past year, Hostess racked up $2.5 billion in sales — yet it suffered a staggering $1.1 billion in losses. Thus, on Nov. 21, Ripplewood Holdings, the private equity outfit that had taken over the conglomerate in 2009, pulled the plug, solemnly announcing that Hostess simply couldn’t survive.
Why? Because it was burdened with overly generous labor contracts, the firm’s executives declared, adding that greedy union officials refused to save the company by taking cuts.
Wait a minute. They claim that the bereaved loved ones of the Hostess family killed the Twinkie? Holy Agatha Christie, that can’t be right.
Remember the horrible murders in 1978 of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk? At the killer’s trial, his lawyer argued for leniency on the grounds that his client subsisted on a steady diet of junk food, which had addled his brain. This claim entered the annals of American jurisprudence as the “Twinkie Defense.”
Even less defensible is the campaign by Ripplewood financial manipulators to lay the death of Hostess at the feet of loyal, longtime employees who, after all, need the jobs. In fact, far from greedy, Hostess workers and their unions have been both modest and faithful. Their wages are decent but not at all excessive — only middle class. And the charge that unions would not make sacrifices to help the company is a flat-out lie, for they had previously given back $100 million in annual wages and benefits to help it survive.
The true perfidy in this drama is not in the union, but inside Ripplewood’s towering castle of high finance in New York City. After buying Hostess in a bankruptcy sale, these equity hucksters proceeded to feather their own nests, rather than modernize Hostess’s equipment and upgrade its products, as the unions had urged. For starters, these profiteers piled an unbearable debt load of $860 million on Hostess, thus diverting its revenues into nonproductive interest payments made to rich, absentee speculators. Also, they siphoned millions of dollars out of Hostess directly into their corporate pockets by charging “consulting and management fees” that did nothing to improve the snack-makers financial health.
But it was not until this year that their rank managerial incompetence and raw ethical depravity fully surfaced. While the Ripplewood honchos in charge of Hostess were demanding a new round of deep cuts in worker’s pay, health care, and pensions, they quietly jacked up their own pay. By a lot! The CEO’s paycheck, for example, rocketed from $750,000 a year to $2.5 million.
Like a character in a bad Agatha Christie whodunit, Ripplewood — the one so insistently pointing the finger of blame at others — turns out to be the one who killed the Twinkie. Along with the livelihoods of 18,500 workers
National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow, Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be – consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.