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Injustice in the fields of Florida

Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is a community-based worker organization composed mainly of immigrants with low-wage jobs in the tomato fields of Florida. The CIW focuses its efforts towards achieving respectable working conditions and living wages for these traditionally oppressed people in the region, as well as the right to be directly involved in decisions that affect their lives.

In order to achieve these goals, the CIW set their sights high and aimed for the corporations that purchased tomatoes from the fields they worked in. In 2001 the CIW announced a nationwide boycott of Taco Bell, whose parent company Yum Brands was found to be one of the largest buyers of their tomatoes. Four years later, in March of 2005, Taco Bell agreed to meet all the demands of the CIW. This huge step, however, applies to less than one percent of the tomatoes picked in Florida.

Having won the battle against Taco Bell, the CIW is currently pressuring another fast-food giant, McDonald’s, to take responsibility for the workers’ rights of those in their supply chain. In the fall of last year, the CIW and the Student Farmworker Alliance (SFA) sent letters and postcards to McDonald’s asking for compliance to their demands.

McDonald’s response was to sidestep the issue by supporting a new bogus organization called Socially Accountable Farm Employers (SAFE). The credibility of SAFE as an organization to “audit and certify fair, lawful farm labor practices in the agriculture industry” is called into question when looking at their corporate ties, in particular to McDonald’s.

In comparing McDonald’s to SAFE, many similarities appear between the two. Handling media work for SAFE is CBR Public Relations, a company who lists McDonald’s as one of its major clients and cites “activist response management” as one of its areas of expertise. Also, to verify their certification, SAFE hired the auditing company Intertek, again employed by McDonald’s. In addition, out of all the businesses that buy tomatoes from Florida, McDonald’s is the only one which publicly supports SAFE.

Besides the possibility of McDonald’s aiding in the creation of SAFE, we also must take under consideration who is accountable for creating this organization. Ironically, it is run by the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association (comprised of the same farm employers who SAFE targets) and the Redlands Christian Migrant Association (their favorite charity). Clearly SAFE may not be quite as secure for the workers as its name implies.

William E. Gladstone once said, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” The CIW has communicated with McDonald’s through negotiation, but no change has been made. Seemingly inspired by Gladstone, the CIW is now turning to more direct action to fight for the rights that every human being deserves.

Starting this past Sun., March 26, the CIW launched The Real Rights Tour, designed to travel the country educating students, among other allies, on the situation in Florida. Included in its destinations is our own University of Notre Dame. This Thurs., March 30, from 12-1:45 p.m. in the Carey Auditorium of the Hesburgh Library, the CIW will be presenting their experiences in the tomato fields and educating on the McDonald’s Campaign. They will then continue on, concluding their tour with a rally in Chicago, Illinois this coming Sat., April 1, in which some Notre Dame students will be participating.

Someone once said, “If you educate people, they will come down on the side of justice.” As members of the Notre Dame family, we have a great opportunity here to educate ourselves on what we can do in the fight for justice.

Nate GibsonRosa LopezCarlos SantosMarch 27