US Church Holds Burger King to Account on Poor Pay
The spiritual leader of the Presbyterian Church in the USA has called on Burger King to improve its wages and working conditions for foreign workers in the Florida tomato fields.
Published 13 January 2007 | Maria Mackay
The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the USA has urged fast-food giant Burger King to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to address wages and working conditions in the tomato fields.
Rev Clifton Kirkpatrick said in a statement to Burger King earlier in the week that workers who pick tomatoes in Florida for Burger King continue to face poverty wages and exploitative working conditions, reports theological think-tank Ekklesia.
"They still lack rights enjoyed by workers in other industries," he declared.
In March 2005 saw the successful conclusion of a four-year long national boycott against Taco Bell by the CIW, a Florida-based group of farm workers. During the boycott the CIW sustained pressure on the leaders of Yum! Brands Inc, owners of Taco Bell, Long John Silvers, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and A&W Root Beer restaurants.
The boycott led to a groundbreaking agreement that improved farm worker wages, guaranteed transparency in Taco Bell's tomato supply chain and established the first code of conduct for Florida agricultural suppliers that guarantees a meaningful role for farm workers in the protection of their own rights, reports Ekklesia.
The boycott was endorsed by the US Presbyterian Church's 214th General Assembly in 2002, which also called for negotiations between Taco Bell, its tomato suppliers and CIW representatives.
Most tomato pickers still receive roughly the same pay as in 1978 - 40 to 45 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick. To earn 50 US dollars a day, considered a good haul, workers must pick about 125 buckets of tomatoes, or about two tons.
Kirkpatrick said in his letter, dated January 10, that Burger King has an obligation to correct the deficiencies.
"The only thing missing in order to end the human rights abuses of tomato pickers is Burger King's willingness," Kirkpatrick wrote. "Any company who profits from the exploitation of others is morally and ethically responsible for ending that exploitation."
Last June, the US Presbyterian Church's 217th General Assembly approved a resolution calling for ongoing work with the CIW in the campaign to get fast-food corporations to ensure the human rights of farm workers harvesting their tomatoes. It supported partnering with the CIW and advancing the precedents established in the Taco Bell-CIW agreement.
The CIW is also currently calling on hamburger giant McDonald's Inc and Chipotle Mexican Grill to improve wages and working conditions. Presbyterians across the country have joined in the efforts of their Church, spearheaded by the Office of the Stated Clerk, the US Presbyterian Church's Campaign for Fair Food, which is a ministry of the Presbyterian Hunger Program.
The CIW, which is led by and represents more than 3,000 mostly Mexican, Guatemalan and Haitian farm workers throughout Florida, hopes to convince all major fast-food companies to pay more for tomatoes.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has also worked with the US Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate and successfully prosecute six cases of farm worker slavery in recent years.