December 2, 2008

Chipotle Exploits Farm Workers ~via Patrick Kelsall [Modern Slavery, Conscious Consumerism, Campaign for Fair Trade Food]

Photo from Laura Martinez. The below letter is by Patrick Kelsall. elephant journal welcomes any and all comment from those who may feel the entire picture is not fairly-represented—after all, the below is simply about fairness!

Apparently the integrity in Chipotle Mexican Grill’s “Food with Integrity” doesn’t seem to extend beyond their slick branding. The Denver-based company [which elephant has loved in the past for promoting free-range pork, using organic rice ~ed.] is refusing to take proactive steps to address a human-rights crisis in the tomato fields of Florida. The people who harvest the tomatoes that end up in Chipotle’s burritos are enduring unacceptable conditions. Farm workers receive around 45 cents for every 42-pound bucket they fill, the same piece-rate as in the 1970’s (!). This means a farmworker has to pick around two tons of tomatoes a day to earn $50, and receives an annual pay of around $10,000. You try it.

This is if the workers get paid at all. Modern-day slavery, in the word’s truest sense, is not uncommon in Florida. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a grassroots farm worker organization out of Immokalee, Florida, has exposed and prosecuted seven cases of slavery in the state since 1997. Over 1,000 people have been liberated from slavery due largely to the CIW’s efforts.

The over 2,500 farm workers that are the CIW have proposed a brilliant solution to systemically addressing the crisis: companies that purchase tomatoes in bulk (like Chipotle) pay only one penny more per pound for those tomatoes, which will go directly to the farm workers. In addition, the company signs a code of conduct that includes cooperating with farm workers to eliminate exploitation and slavery. After all, who better to address the situation in the fields than the farm workers themselves?

After two years of requesting these simple steps from Chipotle, the farm workers are still waiting by the phone. Are these unreasonable, unfeasable requests? Not according to McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, Whole Foods and now Subway—which have all taken these steps.

With little-to-no integrity, in my opinion, Chipotle has responded with a myriad of excuses. First it was “We will look into it,” and now two years later nothing substantial has come from Chipotle’s “research” into these well-documented issues. Then it became “We stopped buying tomatoes from Florida”—a good step that nevertheless misses the point. Farm workers are exploited everywhere. Instead of working with the CIW to address the problem’s roots, Chipotle now says: “We are paying the penny more, but we won’t sign any agreement…that is not how Chipotle does business.” At first this sounds laudatory, and on some level it is. But on second glance it’s clear that Chipotle has avoided the second half of the CIW’s requests: a place for farm workers at the table to address conditions in the fields. Chipotle has managed to look good for the public while dictating terms with the CIW, excluding farm workers from what they have been asking for along: a company receptive to their voice.

All of these excuses are inadequate and a slap in the face to farm workers and consumers alike. When I think of integrity, I think of responsibility, trust, and respect. I don’t think of the characteristics that Chipotle has exhibited; manipulation, injustice and avoidance. Don’t be fooled by Chipotle’s “Food with Integrity” image of organic produce and free-range meat. Wait for them to walk the talk all the way—and once they do become their number one supporter and advocate. Until then, stand on the side of farm workers and justice.

For more information on the campaign for Fair Food: ciw-online.org and sfalliance.org
By Patrick Kelsall, a student at the University of Colorado Boulder and a national steering committee member of the Student/Farmworker Alliance (sfalliance.org).

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