Last Thursday, the Fair Food Nation delivered the message of the Wendy’s Boycott loud and clear to Wendy’s corporate headquarters in the quiet, suburban town of Dublin, Ohio. Farmworker leaders led a delegation inside the meeting and a lively action outside, joined by scores of people of faith, students and community leaders from around the Midwest.
Since the Wendy’s Boycott was announced in March, tens of thousands have taken up the charge in the form of institutional endorsements and actions in local communities around the country. This commitment and enthusiasm took center stage both inside and outside the meeting, making it clear to Wendy’s executives and shareholders that the boycott will only grow in numbers and strength the longer they hold out.
In the days leading up to the much-anticipated meeting, hundreds of people of faith answered an invitation to participate in the National Day of Prayer, praying and then calling the offices of Wendy’s Board Chairman and major shareholder Nelson Peltz. Fair Food supporters across the country called Peltz to deliver the message that as people of faith, they find it unconscionable that Wendy’s refuses to join the Fair Food Program – and as a result, they are boycotting Wendy’s and inviting their congregations and communities to do so as well.
We received reports from around the country that phones were ringing off the hook over at Wendy’s headquarters, and by midday receptionists were no longer taking messages – just names and states of callers.
A national call-in day followed last Wednesday, and hundreds more picked up their phones to call Todd Penegor, the new CEO of Wendy’s, to tell him he has an important choice to make: Will he finally commit Wendy’s to the Fair Food Program or will he allow Wendy’s inaction to continue fueling a national boycott that is tarnishing the company’s flashy image?
Many callers reported that they were unable to get through due to the sheer volume of calls, making it evident that support for the boycott is thriving. The deluge of calls from people of faith around the country was accompanied by the publication of a letter from 40+ Columbus-area clergy demanding that Wendy’s participate in the Program and pledging to boycott until they do.
With this thundering momentum, on Wednesday night, dedicated groups of allies from cities around the Midwest – Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Ann Arbor, Nashville and Louisville – began their travels to Wendy's headquarters for the shareholder meeting.
And so, bright and early on Thursday morning, as a few dozen shareholders entered the headquarter building to hear about and vote on corporate initiatives, members of the CIW were joined by over 80 students, people of faith, and community allies from the Columbus area and across the Midwest to communicate the message of the Wendy’s boycott right outside Wendy’s doorstep.
The lively crew was made up of community organizations, students and religious leaders, interconnected by their deep commitment to stand together with farmworkers and boycott Wendy’s: Ohio Fair Food, Nashville Fair Food, the Presbyterian Mission Agency, the Presbyterian Hunger Program, Dignidad Obrera, the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center, SFA at the Ohio State University, SFA at the University of Michigan, SFA at Duquense University, First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ and Columbus Mennonite Church, among many others!
As more shareholders entered and the meeting time approached, the group – getting larger by the minute – gathered momentarily to give a warm send-off to the extraordinary delegation of four who were ready to enter and speak directly with Wendy’s executives and shareholders: CIW’s Silvia Perez, Natali Rodriguez of the Alliance for Fair Food, Amanda Ferguson of The Ohio State University Student/Farmworker Alliance, and Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.
Here is one highlight from Tony de la Rosa, Interim Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, who shared these words:
"… Presbyterians throughout the country have been incredibly impressed with the strength, the fortitude, the savviness of this movement in [farmworkers’] marathon struggle to take control of their destiny and the demand for respect and fairness that all people should be afforded, but especially for farmworkers who pick our food, who nourish us with their labor...
...We stand with the farmworkers and we call on you, Wendy’s, to heed our call for justice in your supply chain. The Wendy’s boycott is necessary because Wendy’s has refused for many years to join the Fair Food Program and we believe as people of faith that it is a wrong refusal. Slavery in the fields, sexual harassment, other abuses and poverty wages, are simply unacceptable...
....The success of the Fair Food Program is bringing these things to an end, and their success is a cause for our celebration. So now, it’s time for Wendy’s to get on the train for Fair Food and join the Fair Food Program!”
When the circle finally closed, the group began a colorful march to the nearby Wendy’s flagship restaurant. Once there, CIW’s Lupe Gonzalo, a Tennessee State student, and a family from Columbus attempted to speak with the manager of the store to explain the presence of the protest and ask that the manager pass along the message to corporate across the street – but, as expected, the group was turned away at the door.
Returning to the sidewalk, Lupe addressed the waiting crowd with a few final words:
“I tried to tell the manager that I was accompanied today by students and children who are the future of Wendy’s business — who are seeing how Wendy’s is rejecting us. The truth is, Wendy’s is shutting the door on themselves and on the future, because consumers are taking note of how they are responding to the national boycott, and losing respect for Wendy’s.”
And just as Lupe concluded the report back, the delegation inside the shareholder meeting was preparing for an intense exchange with Wendy’s leadership. Throughout the meeting, it became clear that though Wendy’s is shamelessly aware of its position as the only major fast food corporation outside of the Program, they constantly referenced their Supplier Code of Conduct and the values of Wendy’s Founder Dave Thomas as hollow shields.
Following Wendy’s presentation, focused on the international growth of the company, Silvia Perez, representing the CIW, took the stand to address both executives and shareholders alike. She said:
“…Wendy’s actually moved its tomato purchases away from Florida, where workers’ human rights are protected, to source instead from Mexico, where human rights violations are systemic and go unchecked. Wendy’s told the growers it was leaving Florida specifically to avoid the Fair Food Program. And where does it get its tomatoes now? A Harper’s Magazine piece recently revealed that Wendy’s buys its tomatoes from Bioparques, a major grower in Mexico that was the subject of a massive slavery prosecution in 2013.
Therefore, this past March the CIW and thousands of consumers declared a national boycott of Wendy’s…
…All of Wendy’s top competitors – McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, and Subway – have joined and are enforcing the Fair Food Program’s golden standard of human rights in their supply chains.
Given all of this, Wendy’s leadership is faced with a choice. Mr. Penegor and Board Directors, will you choose to join the Fair Food Program and correct a legacy of injustice – or will you choose to see a boycott grow day by day outside of your stores?”
Wendy’s representatives confirmed that the company no longer purchases from Florida, and also asserted that it does not purchase exclusively from Mexico either, but also from California and eastern states. Their response nothing more than a cheap public relations trick to evade the real question before them: Why has Wendy's abandoned growers that are enforcing human rights to purchase from farms where no such protections exist?
Up next, Amanda Ferguson, representing Wendy’s prized “youth market” and a student at The Ohio State University, brought to Wendy’s attention student efforts to end OSU’s contract with Wendy’s:
“…In the fall, the renewal of the Wendy’s contract with the OSU Wexner Medical Center is conditioned upon the “satisfactory resolution of the concerns of the Student Farm Workers Alliance.”
Our concerns are nowhere near met. Thus, unless your company joins the Fair Food Program you can expect that we will fight, tooth and nail, to remove Wendy’s from OSU.
Support for Fair Food is stronger than ever; the millennial generation your company depends on will relentlessly fight and organize to boycott your restaurants regardless of how long it takes.
Mr. Penegor and Wendy’s leadership, will you uphold the Dave Thomas legacy of doing the right thing – or will you continue to ignore the demands of your target market until you see losses in business contracts?”
Wendy’s responded that they feel they have adequately addressed students’ concerns with their Supplier Code of Conduct– but Amanda was quick to respond that students' concerns will only be satisfied by Wendy’s joining the Fair Food Program.
Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster of T’ruah took the mic next:
“…T’ruah’s endorsement of the boycott is part of a massive and growing support within America’s faith community for the human rights of farmworkers. We are joined in our endorsement by the Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Unitarian Universalist Association, together with dozens of congregations representing tens of thousands of people of faith.
Yesterday, over 20 national faith leaders from diverse traditions representing millions across the country published a letter pledging to support the boycott, and right here in Columbus, more than 40 local faith leaders have written to you to endorse the boycott as well. And our numbers will only grow as the boycott expands.
None of us wants a boycott. We want Wendy’s to do the right thing, as its major competitors have done.
It is time for Wendy’s to commit to justice and human rights—to choose meaningful and verifiable rights protections for the workers who pick your tomatoes, rather than continue to uphold a meaningless code of conduct that allows slavery to flourish in your supply chain.
On behalf of the CIW’s faith allies, I ask you: When will you partner with the CIW and become part of this transformative model for human rights protections? When will Wendy’s join the Fair Food Program?”
With that, the shareholder meeting was adjourned, and the Fair Food delegates made their way to Columbus Mennonite Church, where they were welcomed with a warm and beautiful outpouring of cheers and applause from those present outside the shareholder meeting earlier in the day. The play-by-play of the exchange between the delegation and the executives electrified the room, igniting further commitment from allies to continue moving forward the campaign.
Wendy’s is mired in a fast-growing national boycott, and would be wise to look at the Fair Food Nation’s impressive track record of victory. We will win this struggle with Wendy's, too, by partnering with farmworkers to demand dignity and respect in the U.S. agricultural industry.
Stay tuned for more action to come this summer!