Student groups to McD's: "Our patience is all but exhausted"
March 28, 2007
Mr. Jim Skinner, CEO
It has been nearly a year without response since we wrote you concerning the dire human rights crisis in the fields of Florida and the link between McDonald's purchasing practices and the extreme poverty and degradation faced by thousands of women and men who harvest tomatoes for your sandwiches and salads. We are writing today to tell you that, as national student organizations representing tens of thousands of influential young consumers, our patience is all but exhausted.
Instead of partnering with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) – an internationally recognized, award
Meanwhile, the human rights crisis in Florida's fields – and, by extension, McDonald's supply chain – steadily worsens. According to the Florida Tomato Committee, "Florida produces virtually the entire fresh market of field-grown tomatoes in the United States from December through May each year, and accounts for about 50 percent of all of the domestically produced fresh tomatoes in the United States each year." The well-documented conditions under which these tomatoes are harvested include:
In 2005, after a four-year national boycott, the CIW reached a historic agreement with Taco Bell to address the ever-deepening poverty of farmworkers in Florida. Within weeks, McDonald's launched its own campaign to undermine the two key principles established in the accord – namely, the involvement of farmworkers themselves in the protection and advancement of their own labor rights, and immediate economic relief in the form of a penny-per-pound surcharge directly improving farmworker wages.
On the issue of wages, and as an alternative to the Taco Bell surcharge, McDonald's has taken the untenable position that tomato pickers actually aren't poor and therefore don't need a raise, even financing a study to support that very conclusion. Before the ink could dry, this study was discredited to the hilt by dozens of leading legal, labor, and social research scholars, including former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. One analysis called the study, "so riddled with errors both large and small that it cannot be accepted as factually accurate on virtually any measure." Another scholar concluded, "there is no way this would have survived a Master's degree defense. The result is misinformation, and no policy decision should rest in any part on this study."
As an alternative to Taco Bell's enforceable code of conduct, which was developed and implemented with
On top of that, former FFVA chairman Frank Johns was named numerous times, although not charged, in the federal indictment of his longtime crewleader, Ron Evans. Evans was charged with keeping his workers in what prosecutors called "a form of servitude." Earlier this year, Evans received a 30-year sentence for recruiting workers from homeless shelters across Florida and holding them in debt peonage through a combination of low wages and charges for everything from rent to crack cocaine. Johns publicly defended Evans "as an above average crewleader."
The simple fact is this: Florida's agricultural employers – many of them your company's suppliers and "partners"
in social responsibility – have a long and disreputable track record of farm labor abuse, a record that has only
grown worse since the launching of SAFE. They are, in short, the very foxes that have been raiding the henhouse
In summary, McDonald's actions since the announcement of the Taco Bell agreement have not only proven to be a dismal failure by any objective measure, but have actually been destructive, serving to undermine farmworkers' fragile gains and to give comfort to growers who, for the first time in decades, were under pressure to institute real labor reforms in the wake of that historic agreement. Instead, McDonald's has actually managed to embolden growers determined to thwart progress.
As a result of your actions, your company now stands on the brink of a protracted conflict. Your only exit is to
Two years ago, McDonald's chief marketing officer told the Nation's Restaurant News that, “Our new sweet spot is 18- to 24-year-olds.” Yet students and young people were on the front lines of the four-year Taco Bell Boycott on hundreds of campuses and communities throughout the country.
If your company does not change its current course and work with the CIW to address farmworkers'
cc: Bob Langert, McDonald's, Vice President of Social Responsibility
PO Box 603, Immokalee, FL 34143 :: (239) 657-8311 :: organize (at) sfalliance.org