Constant readers will know that I don't give any fast-food "restaurants" my business. But I'm hoping to persuade any Burger King customers out there to give up their Whoppers, even if that means buying a Big Mac (shudder).
Let me give you some background, courtesy of Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation):
The Student/Farmworker Alliance and an affiliated nonprofit, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, have for years been urging the fast-food industry to accept some responsibility for the plight of Florida migrants who harvest the tomatoes for its hamburgers and tacos. . . . The wages of these farm workers, adjusted for inflation, have declined by as much as 70 percent since the late 1970s. And hundreds, perhaps thousands, of migrants have been enslaved by labor contractors and forced to work without pay. The McDonald’s Corporation and Yum Brands (which owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC) have agreed to subsidize a modest pay raise for their tomato pickers and work closely with the coalition to eliminate slavery from the fields.
The "modest pay raise" is a penny per pound of tomatoes picked. Schlosser's use of the word "enslaved" is not metaphorical: we are talking about actual slavery, people forced to work without pay. Last month a Senate committee hearing was held on the issue of working conditions for tomato workers. An investigator for the Collier County Sheriff's Office, asked by Sen. Bernie Sanders whether there was human trafficking occurring in Florida agriculture, replied,
"It's probably occurring right now while we sit here," Frost said. "Almost assuredly it's going on right now."
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and the Student/Farmworker Alliance have fought some tough battles on behalf of the farm workers. For their efforts, they are now being spied upon by the Burger King corporation.
At first the company denied using such tactics. Now, however, a Burger King executive has admitted to using a private security firm, Diplomatic Tactical Services, to spy on the Alliance--ostensibly to prevent acts of violence.
“It is both the corporation’s right and duty,” a company spokesman later wrote in an e-mail message to [Schlosser], “to protect its employees and assets from potential harm.”
Neither the CIW nor the Student/Farmworker Alliance has ever been guilty of any form of violence. Burger King spied on this group in order to learn of its plans in hopes of undermining those plans.
Additionally, a Burger King official
Burger King's actions are unjustifiable and unconscionable. Publicly, officials say they want to work with the coalition to improve working conditions for tomato pickers, while privately they engage in actions seeking to discredit the coalition. Disinformation campaigns and spying are despicable acts, particularly when directed against efforts to improve workers' lives. A penny a pound would certainly not greatly erode Burger King's profits; McDonald's and Yum Brands have found it possible to reach an agreement with the CIW. In fact, Eric Schlosser has said that the penny-a-pound increase would cost Burger King only about $300,000 a year. Burger King reported $2.2 billion in revenues last year, and its CEO made $4.1 million. It's extremely hard to understand why they are balking at that extra penny.
The CIW presented, or tried to present, Burger King officials with a petition signed by 80,000 people promising to boycott the company if it doesn't do the right thing. You can sign the petition, and you can promise to stop patronizing Burger King.
While the fast-food companies haven't been the only beneficiaries of shockingly low wages and outright slavery--the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange is a particularly loathsome organization that has so far blocked that extra penny provided by McDonald's and Yum from reaching the workers--pressuring these companies, as the buyers, is a place to start. The buyers have the power to insist on decent treatment of workers and to look elsewhere for tomatoes (like Mexico) if growers refuse to be accountable.
Tomato workers have not had a raise in over twenty years. They average 45 cents per 32-pound bucket of tomatoes picked, about $50 per day. I hope that any Burger King customers reading this (and do follow the links for the whole story) will boycott the chain and urge others to do the same. Use your buying power to send a message.