All this week, Chipotle is seizing on the opportunity to promote its brand by sponsoring country-wide free screenings of the great new documentary Food, Inc..

There’s just one problem here: Food, Inc.’s director, Robert Kenner, and co-producer, Eric Schlosser have been outspoken critics of Chipotle’s exploitive production practices and just last month joined more than two dozen food justice leaders in signing a sharply-worded letter of protest to company CEO Steve Ells just last month.

Chipotle, the country’s fastest-growing fast food chain, has resisted efforts by farm-workers demanding a lasting commitment to ending the brutal exploitation in Florida’s fields. As the letter says, in part:

We realize that Chipotle has announced that it’s paying an extra penny per pound for tomatoes, but we have to ask: What has Chipotle done since that announcement to identify and cultivate growers who are willing to raise their labor standards and pass the penny along to their workers? Your company has shown admirable leadership in working with – and incubating – meat suppliers willing to meet your higher standards. But your failure to do that same hard work in the Florida tomato industry – together with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) – threatens to render your announcement an empty gesture aimed more at public relations damage control than an effort to make real change.

Chipotle has been able to successfully promote its “Food with Integrity” brand, and the company does adhere to sustainable practices when it comes to sourcing its meat — that’s why it got props in the film. But its regard for animals and the environment makes its lack of concern for the farmworkers who pick its produce even more glaring.

Lately, Chipotle has been coming under increasing fire from social-justice activists and the underwriting of Food, Inc. seems a smart and calculated PR maneuver to burnish the company’s image at a time when it’s receiving increasing criticism for its intransigence in joining Burger King, Taco-Bell and others in committing to ending the brutal exploitation in Florida’s fields..

Whether the film’s producers should have accepted the sponsorship, to me, a very debatable point. If, as I understand, the underwriting, allowed many more people to see the film than would have otherwise, then that’s a good thing, especially if the CIW can effectively call out the hypocrisy. In theaters across the country, Campaign for Fair Food allies are rallying, demanding Chipotle show farmworkers the same respect they show small farmers and stop stiff-arming the CIW.

You can support the call for real change on the part of Chipotle by adding your name to the letter to CEO Steve Ells demanding an end to the human rights crisis in Florida’s tomato fields.


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