LOUISVILLE (PNS) – Fasting clergy and staff from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) joined with congregation and community members for a vigil at a Wendy’s restaurant in Louisville on Thursday. The witness was one of nearly five dozen taking place at Wendy’s restaurants across the U.S. on the National Day of Fasting and Witness. As many as 160 clergy and faith leaders took part in the fast.
The latest action was organized in protest of the fast-food giant’s ongoing refusal to protect farmworkers’ rights by joining the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Presidential Medal-winning Fair Food Program (FFP).
Thursday’s national mobilization preceded the recently announced five-day Freedom Fast and major march by farmworkers and allies in New York City. It will take place March 11–15 outside the offices of Wendy’s Board Chair Nelson Peltz.
A PC(USA) co-moderator, the interim executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and the director of the PC(USA)’s Compassion, Peace and Justice ministry area took part in the fast.
As temperatures hovered in the 20s, Presbyterian pastors in Philadelphia stood outside of two Wendy’s restaurants. Bruce and Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, co-pastors of Overbrook Presbyterian Church, and Deacon Grace Marable with Bethel Presbyterian Church joined two rabbis and a United Church of Christ pastor to witness, speak with the managers at both restaurants and hand out flyers.
For more than four years, Wendy’s has refused to join the FFP to protect farmworkers’ rights in the retailer’s supply chain. Instead, the fast-food company shifted its tomato purchases from FFP farms in Florida to Mexico, where workers face widespread labor abuses, including sexual harassment and assault, without access to protections.
Despite documented human rights violations in Mexican agriculture, Wendy’s responded to concerns about abuse in their supply chain in an October 2016 statement that read, “We are quite happy with the quality and taste of the tomatoes we are sourcing from Mexico.”
Organizers of the fast chose Jan. 18 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the historic 30-day hunger strike by farmworkers in Florida. That strike laid the groundwork for the development of the FFP, which is widely recognized as the most effective means of preventing sexual abuse and forced labor in the agriculture industry today. Fourteen major retailers, including McDonald’s, Burger King and Walmart, have joined the program, purchasing exclusively from producers that uphold a strict human rights code of conduct that includes a zero-tolerance policy for slavery and sexual harassment.
“Wendy’s four major fast-food competitors all participate in the Fair Food Program. Wendy’s has a moral obligation to do its part in ending the sexual abuse and human rights violations among the people who grow and harvest our food,” said Sara Lisherness, director of Compassion, Peace and Justice at the PC(USA).
Participating retailers also pay a “penny-per-pound” premium, which is passed down through the supply chain and paid to workers by their employers.
Since the program’s inception in 2011, buyers have paid over $26 million into the FFP. In 2015, the program expanded for the first time beyond Florida to tomato fields in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey. In the 2015–16 season, the program expanded to two new Florida crops — strawberries and bell peppers.
“People of faith have a special role to play in accompanying the farmworkers as they work to reshape the industry,” said Rebecca Barnes, coordinator of the Presbyterian Hunger Program. “Presbyterians can visit pcusa.org/fairfood to learn ways to advocate for a fair food nation.”
In addition to the PC(USA), other supporting faith-based institutions include the United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist, Interfaith Worker Justice, National Council of Churches and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.
by Andrew Kang Bartlett and Rick Jones, Presbyterian News Service