Students Should Stand for Labor Rights

There are three things you should consider before putting a Wendy’s burger in your mouth. First, you’re getting roughly 830 calories from the burger alone. Second, the 50 grams of fat you’re ingesting will be hard to get rid of. And third, the tomatoes you’re biting into are cultivated from the sweat of modern day slaves — the Immokalee farmers.

Last Wednesday, the Student Farmworkers Alliance held a protest against Wendy’s, and although protesting one of America’s favorite fast-food joints seems trivial, the issue at hand is very real. 

In 1993, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) was formed to better the lives of tomato farmers in Florida. In 2011, the organization released the Fair Food Program, seeking to promote the stagnant wages of farmworkers, limit human trafficking and stop sexual harassment within the field.

The Fair Food Program (FFP) works as a contract between buyers and sellers, and the model is lauded internationally. Better labor standards were created, farmers are paid 1 cent more per pound sold, and retail purchasers are given recognition for promoting human rights. 

Coalition member Lupe Gonzalo said that the CIW has been reaching out to major companies with the hope of them adopting the FFP’s requests.

“In our work we have been able to reach agreements with large food corporations such as McDonald’s or Burger King, who are agreeing to pay one extra penny for every pound of tomatoes they purchase,” Gonzalo said.  

Of the five largest food conglomerates, however, one refuses to abide by the Fair Food Program, and it’s the very conglomerate that exists on UT’s campus — Wendy’s.

“It is the only one not doing its part so that the rights of workers are being respected,” Gonzalo said. “Students go to Wendy’s frequently, but what they don’t realize is the realities that go behind the food.”

Although Wendy’s buys from FFP farmers, they are not a part of their binding contract and cannot be held accountable for the the harm inflicted on the workers. Wendy’s does not have an obligation to protect workers harmed as a result of poorly regulated conditions.

This, however, is not the case for the other four conglomerates who are part of the FFP. Despite having an enterprise value of more than $3.5 billion, Wendy’s refuses to pay the extra cent for the farmers.

We as students have the opportunity to pressure the institutions perpetuating the Immokalee farmers’ plight. But because we’re unaware of such issues, we often intoxicate ourselves with the notion that their plight does not exist.

Humanitarianism isn’t exclusive to activists or politicians, it’s for everyone with a beating heart. When we see a problem, we’re obligated to stand — so let’s stand.

Syed is a biochemistry freshman from Houston. Follow him on Twitter @mohammadasyed.