Farmworkers in Palm Beach, Fla. are set to march five miles in protest of Wendy’s treatment of farmworkers, and their protest has received a blessing from Roman Catholic Archbishop Thomas Wenski.
The farmworkers are with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a worker-led human rights organization. The protest is part of a larger campaign by CIW to pressure Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program, a partnership among farmworkers, growers, and buyers that advocates for a worker-driven social responsibility model. The five mile march will end at Bradley Park in Palm Beach, where Nelson Peltz, the Wendy’s board chair, has a vacation home. Peltz leads the board of directors, which contributes to Wendy’s corporate operations.
The worker-driven social responsibility model centers workers in the creation, management, and enforcement of programs that protect worker-rights.
“The Coalition of Immokalee Farm Workers has a long history of support from the Catholic Church here in Florida,” Wenski, the Catholic archbishop of Miami, told Sojourners by email the week leading up to the march.
In addition to a blessing, Wenski is also set to speak at the end of the march on April 2.
“I plan to be in Palm Beach Saturday afternoon to once again lend my support and accompany CIW as they seek to convince Wendy’s to join McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Taco Bell and Chipotle in signing on to the Fair Food Program that has won groundbreaking protections for farmworkers.” he said.
CIW launched the FFP in 2011. The program facilitates on-site educational workshops about labor standards for farmworkers during work hours. The FFP also has a third-party council that conducts audits and investigates worksite complaints.
The FFP has uncovered over 9,000 violations and educated over 70,000 workers since 2011, according to its website. In 2013, the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships reported that the FFP “[one] of the most successful and innovative programs” they had researched in combatting modern-day slavery.
Pressure for corporations like Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program are heightened after a three year investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice found that farms in Georgia were at the heart of “one of the country’s largest-ever human trafficking and visa fraud investigations.” The farms guilty of exploitation at this level were not part of the FFP.
For some of the workers, seeing the archbishop speak at the march will be a tangible reminder of his support, said Silvia Perez, a farmworker and organizer with CIW who assists with CIW’s women’s group.
Archbishop Wenski has been a longtime supporter of their campaign, according to Perez. Her community of migrant farmworkers are mostly Guatemalan, Mexican, and Haitian. She said a large part of the community identifies as Catholic.
“Our hope is that Wendy’s will finally hear our demands as farmworkers,” Perez said. “It’s been over seven years that we’ve been calling on them to join our program.”
“There's no transparency in Wendy’s supply chain,” Perez said. “Wendy’s can’t guarantee that the workers that are picking the tomatoes that they're selling to consumers didn't do so under conditions of forced labor or under exploitation.”
Joining the FFP would help farmworkers in Wendy’s supply chain know their labor rights and what to do if their rights are violated. Joining FFP also would allow for a third-party to investigate farms that are making farmers work in unsafe conditions, like extreme weather or operating unsafe machinery. FFP has also been able to address the high levels of sexual assualt among farm workers according to journalist investigations.
Because of COVID-19, Perez said that CIW has not been able to hold as many large actions as they did in previous years. Farmworkers were deemed essential workering the COVID-19 pandemic and have continued to work in the face of climate change and unjust working conditions.
The Wendy’s boycott comes at the end of Farmworker Awareness Week, ending on César Chávez Day. A Mexican-American farmworker, activist and Catholic, Chávez co-founded the United Farm Workers. President Joe Biden declared March 31 César Chávez day for the first time in 2021.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on April 4 at 10:30 a.m. to correct that the protest did not end at Nelson Peltz’ home. It ended at Bradley Park, where Peltz has a vacation home.