November 24, 2008
The grim reality of Florida agriculture today–crushing poverty for farmworkers and multiple convictions for slavery–contrasts glaringly with the progressive rhetoric of “Food with Integrity.” This is the slogan used by Chipotle, a burrito chain rapidly settling in university towns across the country, to pitch its supposedly supply-chain-conscious fare. The ugly contradiction has triggered notice by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a community-based group of predominantly Guatemalan, Mexican and Haitian workers in South Florida.
The majority of the CIW’s 2,500-plus members are young people harvesting produce in Florida’s fields. They know the miserable wages and work atmosphere all too well. In fact, the CIW has helped federal officials to investigate and prosecute numerous slavery cases since 1997, resulting in the emancipation of more than 1,500 farmworkers, many of whom have since joined the CIW’s ranks.
Integrity or Misguided Paternalism?
For years, the CIW has publicly called on Chipotle to enact a meaningful code of conduct to protect the rights of farmworkers in its supply chain. While the CIW has secured similar agreements with other fast food giants–among them McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut–Chipotle refuses to act.
Chipotle’s determination that they, rather than Florida farmworkers, know what’s best for tomato pickers was a difficult pill to swallow for CIW who responded by camping out in front of Chipotle’s corporate headquarters. Along with fellow young allies from Boulder and Denver (part of the Student/Farmworker Alliance network), CIW members created a plantón, a sit-in style encampment with a prominent banner that read, “Chipotle: We Are Not Animals. We Have A Voice.”
Campaigns to Change Big Ag
Sadly, Chipotle’s paternalism, and its efforts at ignoring the humanity of those mistreated in its supply chain, are nothing new to CIW. The organization’s 15-year history is punctuated with efforts by farmworkers to demand that those who oppress them recognize their humanity, and afford them the basic rights they deserve. Despite federal laws to protect workers, Florida tomato pickers receive no benefits whatsoever, and their wages have not risen substantially in 30 years.