Every two years, the United Church of Christ gathers for General Synod, where church members from all over the country come together to worship, learn, complete acts of service and sometimes civil disobedience, and vote on resolutions concerning social justice issues and the church’s operations.
This year was my second General Synod and my first time as a delegate, meaning I had voting power when resolutions came to the floor. Delegates are assigned to committees that discuss and change resolutions during General Synod, then vote to recommend the resolution to the voting floor or not.
I served on the committee for the resolution “Affirming the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Boycott of Wendy’s,” which ultimately passed on the Synod floor. I haven’t seen much buzz about this issue, so I’m writing about it now.
Step one of our committee work involved attending an educational intensive where we heard from a subject matter expert (SME) who gave us background and insight about the conditions farm workers face and why we’re being asked to participate in the boycott. Here’s a quick summary of the SME’s presentation:
- The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is an organization based in Florida consisting of farm workers and growers. Over the past decade, it has pushed multinational companies to join the Fair Food Program, which ensures fair wages and human rights protections for farm workers.
- This group’s work has been successful. Due to their efforts, including a past boycott of Taco Bell that the UCC endorsed, companies like McDonald’s, Sam’s Club, and Burger King have joined the Fair Food Program.
- Wendy’s has been the holdout despite efforts to convince them to join this program.
- This concerns the CIW because, historically, Wendy’s has purchased most of its tomatoes from Florida farms. Recently, the company switched its suppliers to farms in Mexico.
- Working conditions on farms are terrible. Workers are subjected to slavery conditions, sexual abuse, and low wages that have remained stagnant for 20 years.
- In-depth reporting by the LA Times revealed the working conditions on some Mexican farms and it has been confirmed that some of the farms profiled (e.g. Bioparques de Occidente) grow tomatoes that Wendy’s purchases.
- The UCC has a long history of advocating for farm workers’ rights, including an instance during General Synod in 1973 when the delegates voted to suspend business for 24 hours to charter a jet to Coachella, California and join protesting farm workers who were facing violence at the time.
- Wendy’s claims that it has high standards for conduct in all of their suppliers and notes that they have a third-party inspector who visits the farms and ensures that operations match those standards. However, Wendy’s hires that third-party, and as is common in these types of relationships, it’s like that this third-party isn’t telling the whole story in the interest of keeping their client.
Frankly, for a church as progressive as the UCC, this resolution was largely a no-brainer to those of us on the committee. Our two sticking points regarded unintended economic consequences of a boycott, such as less money going to the Dave Thomas Foundation for foster children and culling of minimum wage employees at Wendy’s restaurants. We made an earnest effort to work through these concerns and see if we could add to the resolution to account for them. However, we ultimately found that adding in language to provide exceptions weakened the original resolution. While those of us in the room understood the nuances of the concerns raised, we felt that we couldn’t clearly express that in additional resolved clauses without creating the perception to readers that the church was weakening its call to action.
Of course, these exact concerns came up on the voting floor. A few delegates asked that in supporting this resolution, we also
1) support foster children in our local communities,
3) remind and encourage Wendy’s employees at all levels to speak with their managers/bosses about why people aren’t purchasing their products.
Personally, I rarely eat fast food to begin with, so I haven’t been eating at Wendy’s anyway. However, simply not purchasing a product doesn’t always clearly convey the message of a boycott. So if you choose to boycott Wendy’s, do so actively. Here are a few action steps:
- Use #BoycottWendys for any articles or images you share on social media.
- Stop retweeting and reblogging viral tweets from Wendy’s Twitter, or if you do then let your followers know about this issue. I know their banter is cute, but their corporate practices aren’t.
- Sign this petition.
- Write a letter to Wendy’s corporate offices explaining the boycott and asking them to join the Fair Food Program.
- Donate and stay up to date with the movement.
As far as I can tell, this has fallen off people’s radar since last year. Keep the conversation going and increase the pressure on Wendy’s until they amend their practices.