EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an open letter from Lupe Gonzalo, Nely Rodriguez, Silvia Perez, and Julia de la Cruz of the CIW to their sisters in the Time’s Up Movement.
We will get right to the point, as there is no time to spare.
We need your voice. We need your platform. We need your power. We need you to stand with us, shoulder to shoulder, and take action to end sexual violence in the fields.
We write to you today from the groves and vegetable fields of the South, where some of the lowest-paid, least-protected workers in this country toil every day to harvest the food that feeds all of our families. We have endured sexual harassment and rape, as well as forced labor and dangerous, humiliating conditions at our jobs. As our sisters in California with the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas said: “Countless farmworker women across our country suffer in silence because of the widespread sexual harassment and assault that they face at work.” Far too many of us have experienced these abuses personally in order to feed our children.
Today, however, we are not writing to lay bare our problems—thanks to your voices, and those of women who have spoken up across the country, the world is listening to the daily struggles we all face. Rather, we are writing today about a powerful new solution to end sexual harassment and assault against working women, and to ask for your help in bringing that solution to hundreds of thousands of more farmworker women across the country.
We are members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and we, together with our male co-workers, are building a new world for farmworkers, one in which we as women no longer face a daily barrage of catcalls, groping, and sexual assault in the fields. We have created that new world for tens of thousands of farmworkers under the protections of the Fair Food Program, the workplace monitoring program that has eliminated longstanding human-rights violations in the fields, from rape to modern-day slavery. The Fair Food Program is a proven, worker-driven model, tested in one of the harshest working environments this country has to offer. It has been acclaimed by human-rights and legal experts from the White House, to the United Nations, to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. Fourteen of the world’s largest retail food companies support the program, agreeing to cut off purchases from growers who refuse to abide by an enforced code of conduct, failing to respect the dignity of their workers. Those companies include almost all the leading fast-food brands, from Taco Bell to McDonald’s.
All except Wendy’s. And that is why we need your help today.
For years now, Wendy’s has turned a deaf ear to workers’ and consumers’ calls to join the Fair Food Program. Worse yet, in response to pressure to join the FFP, Wendy’s abandoned its longtime Florida tomato suppliers altogether and shifted its purchases instead to Mexico, where sexual harassment and assault in the fields are widespread, and Wendy’s brand is protected, not because women’s human rights are ensured by an enforceable program with real consequences, like the Fair Food Program, but because farmworker women there are intimidated into silence by a culture of fear, violence, and corruption.
That’s why next month, in New York City, we are putting our bodies on the line to break that silence.
When you announced the birth of the beautiful new Time’s Up movement, you wrote:
Now, unlike ever before, our access to the media and to important decision makers has the potential of leading to real accountability and consequences.… We particularly want to lift up the voices, power, and strength of women working in low-wage industries who are subjected to indignities and offensive behavior that they are expected to tolerate in order to make a living. We stand with you. We support you.
We are grateful for your commitment to prioritize the needs and concerns of low-income women in your vision for a just society. Your promise gives us hope.
From March 11–15, we are launching the five-day Freedom Fast outside the Manhattan hedge fund offices of Nelson Peltz, Wendy’s largest shareholder and Chair of its Board of Directors. The Fast will demand that Wendy’s join the rest of the fast-food industry in supporting the Fair Food Program’s groundbreaking worker protections, and will protest the ongoing human-rights abuses faced by workers in Mexico’s produce industry where Wendy’s currently buys its tomatoes. The Freedom Fast will then culminate with a massive march on March 15 in the heart of Manhattan.
Our message is simple: The time is up for corporate leaders, like Mr. Peltz, who have the power to end sexual violence against women in their supply chains and, yet, do nothing. Inaction by a market giant like Wendy’s in the face of a problem like sexual assault is unacceptable, but inaction in the face of a solution is unconscionable.
But for our message to be heard—for our voice to reach consumers across the country, and our program to spread its protections to hundreds of thousands of more farmworker women—we need your help. As women, you know the pain of sexual harassment and assault. As leaders, you know how rare proven solutions to those crimes truly are, and how few women have access to effective complaint mechanisms at work without fear of losing their jobs, or having to wait years for justice.
So today, we turn to you because we need your voice. We need your presence. We need your platform. We need your power. Join us in March in New York and help us show the world that there is a price to pay when a corporation turns its back on women calling for an end to sexual violence.
Join us in our fight to bring the proven solution of the Fair Food Program, which has the power to create a world without victims, to more farmworker women. Now is the time.