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FSU students fight for farmworker rights

By Annabelle Chapman |
July 26, 2022
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Tallahassee, FL - On, July 20, the student government of Florida State University passed Resolution 45, “A Resolution to bring attention to the Fair Food Program,” in what comes as a major victory in the national Boycott Wendy’s campaign. The university’s Student/Farmworker Alliance had been pushing for this resolution since it formed as a chapter in 2020. Their reasoning is simple - Wendy’s is profiting off of farmworker exploitation.

Over a decade has passed since Florida’s agricultural fields were considered a “ground zero” for modern slavery. Now, Florida tomato farms in the Fair Food Program are leading examples of what is possible through worker organizing. And all of this started in Immokalee, where a group of farmworkers began fighting for better wages and working conditions in the 1990s. Before this group, called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, created the Fair Food program, abuse and violence were rampant. Farmworkers rarely had access to bathrooms, clean water, or shade whilst working under the scorching Florida sun. In the best of cases, they were paid sub-poverty wages and evaded threats, harassment, assault or wage theft. The worst cases, though, include sexual assault and modern slavery.

Created in 2011 as a unique partnership between food retailers, farmers and farmworkers, the Fair Food Program has changed Florida’s agriculture industry and limited abuses. It is so effective a program because it was created by and for farmworkers themselves. And it is not limited to Florida. The protections and freedoms guaranteed under the Fair Food Program cover farmworkers across the east coast, and its model of worker-driven social responsibility is making waves throughout the global supply chain as workers reclaim their power and demand better.

Wendy’s, though, stands alone as the last of the five major fast food companies to reject participation in the Fair Food Program. The corporation has relocated their tomato purchasing multiple times to evade the program, once sourcing tomatoes from farms in Mexico that were exposed for forcing adult and even child workers to endure subhuman conditions often without pay. Since then, they have released misleading information about the tomato industry such as claims that greenhouses have "inherent benefits of safe, indoor working conditions.” In fact, one of the certification standards upon which the company relies (SA8000) was also held by a Pakistani textile factory in which 262 workers were killed in a fire.

Farmworkers know that neither greenhouses nor the corporation’s toothless code of conduct protect them against sexual violence and abuse. In contrast, the Fair Food Program is the “gold standard” of social responsibility programs, as confirmed by a recent independent study of 40 leading initiatives which found that the program represents “the only existing model with the proven potential to afford protection for the most vulnerable and lowest-wage workers in global supply chains.”

By refusing to join the Fair Food Program, Wendy’s provides a market for farms with no reputable mechanisms to prevent abuses like wage theft, sexual assault and even modern slavery. 

Organizing alongside Immokalee farmworkers, students at Florida State University hope to use their power to escalate pressure for the corporation to take responsibility for workers in its supply chain. And they are not alone - other universities in Florida and across the country have passed similar student government resolutions demanding that Wendy’s join the Fair Food Program and that their universities stop doing business with them until then.

The Student/Farmworker Alliance at Florida State was thrilled when the student senate passed their resolution 13-0-4 after months of organizing, but said also, “It was really disappointing to hear one of the senators object to passing the resolution unanimously because of its ‘political content.’ Everything in this world is political, but there should be nothing controversial about the people who put food on our tables and in our dining halls having a say about the conditions under which they pick that food.”

In solidarity with farmworkers and workers around the world, the chapter plans to build on the success of this resolution and continue organizing FSU students to fight back.

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