action at chipotle headquarters

April 2, 2008 - Denver, CO

Click here for a report from other actions across the country during the Week of Action!

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon in Denver, almost 100 Fair Food activists came out for a march on Chipotle headquarters, calling on the quickly-growing fast casual chain to address working conditions in its tomato supply chain.

Members of the Denver Fair Food Committee were joined at the action by CIW and SFA members who made the trip from Florida as well as a diverse crowd of local CIW allies, including these members of the women's group at el Centro Humanitario, a day laborer center in Denver...

...students from MEChA de Auraria...

...and, of course, members of StudentWorker and SFA from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The march was preceded by some savvy (and hilarious) street theater that helped to illustrate the campaign for march participants and on-lookers alike, featuring none other than Chipotle founder and CEO Steve Ells...

...touting the merits of his "burritos with integrity" to this unassuming consumer, who thinks that food produced under fair and sustainable conditions sounds like a great idea.

The worker (literally) behind that food finally gets some attention from the crowd after numerous attempts at being heard, and reveals the reality of farmworker poverty and exploitation behind Chipotle's food... consumers unite with the worker to wrench away "one penny per pound" from the Chipotle CEO. (Click here for the entire script of the street theater.)

As the theater wrapped up, the march took off, passing by a Chipotle restaurant en route to the headquarters.

Once the march arrived at its destination, a delegation of Denver community leaders and CIW and SFA members entered the building to deliver over 1,000 postcards signed by Denver-area consumers.The delegation included representatives from the Colorado Progressive Coalition; the United Methodist Church; FRESC; Rocky Mountain Animal Defense; Coloradans for Immigrant Rights; Prax(us)... well as representatives from el Centro Humanitario, Boulder SFA, and Colorado Jobs With Justice, pictured above. The delegation also re-delivered a version of this letter signed by dozens of organizations in the Denver area.

Prominently displayed in the lobby of Chipotle's corporate offices is its "Food With Integrity" manifesto. This declaration — along with the responses given to the delegation (and repeated to the AP) by Chipotle spokesperson Chris Arnold — offer the opportunity for a brief reflection as we share more photos from the picket that continued outside while the delegation delivered its message to Chipotle:

In Chipotle's own words, "Food with Integrity means working back along the food chain.  It means going beyond distributors to discover how the vegetables are grown... Our size helps us influence the decisions of our suppliers" and that the goal of this philosophy is “no less ambitious than revolutionizing the way America grows, gathers, serves, and eats its food.”

Chipotle CEO Ells has stated that Chipotle looks "for ingredients that are grown and raised with care and respect" and that he does not want his success to be "part of exploitation" (of animals). Ells' own "epiphany" concerning animal welfare occurred after he visited some suppliers' farms, prompting him to question: "If people know that the food is based on abusing animals, how satisfying can that dining experience be?"

But what about using that size and influence to be part of the solution to the human rights crisis facing farmworkers in the US today, as Yum Brands and McDonald's have already committed to? What about assuring that the human beings who toil to harvest your vegetables can work under conditions of "care and respect?" What about the exploitation and abuse of farmworkers that makes Chipotle's burritos possible?

Chipotle has been able to grow by leaps and bounds — slated to open dozens of new restaurants this year and see its total sales top the $1 billion mark — in no small part due to the "Food With Integrity" vision so key to its marketing strategy.

Food With Integrity, however, is either a holistic guiding philosophy or a clever marketing scheme designed to cash in on a fad. It can't be both. Every day that Chipotle refuses to dialogue with the CIW is another day that its own words ring with an increasing emptiness.

Having refused to meet with the CIW for over two years, Chipotle's response has been to say that it is "investigating" conditions in the fields and has, in the meantime, discontinued tomato purchases from Florida.

Chipotle has had at least 7 years since the launch of the Campaign for Fair Food to "investigate" what everyone knows is true: that farmworkers, in the words of the US Department of Labor, are a labor force “in acute economic distress," earning subpoverty wages and lacking many basic labor protections and rights.

Prosecution is currently underway in the 7th case of modern-day slavery to emerge rom the fields in the past 10 years, this time involving workers forced to pick tomatoes with some of them locked in panel trucks or chained to poles to prevent escape. To be blunt, these are conditions that Chipotle would not accept for pigs or cows.

And given Florida's dominance in the US fresh tomato market, the only other place where Chipotle could be sourcing tomatoes during fully half of the year is Mexico, where workers face the same, if not worse, conditions; and which would exponentially expand the carbon footprint of Chipotle's food, contradicting its own focus on "sustainability." If Chipotle is sourcing from other states within the US, as Arnold stated to the delegation on April 2nd, they are sourcing from the same labor conditions that are endemic to the industry as a whole, particularly along the east coast, where many of the same Florida-based tomato companies operate.

All of this for no other apparent reason than to avoid partnering with human beings who are defending their human rights and attempting to forge a more fair, more sustainable agricultural industry.

Increasingly, consumers are taking note of the impact their food choices have, not only on the environment and animals but on the people who work to harvest that food...

...and they are increasingly calling on companies like Chipotle to address these issues and thus close the gap between their rhetoric and the reality of farmworker exploitation.

By the end of the march and rally, some CIW allies were a bit tired. But Chipotle's stalling will not tire this movement.

After the delegation made its way back outside, the crowd marched once again, firm in their resolve to bring Chipotle to truly live up to its own creed.

media coverage:
• Labor group protests outside Chipotle's headquarters (AP, 4/2)
• Florida farmworkers launch Chipotle protest in Denver (La Voz Nueva, 4/2)


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