CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, the original version of this story misspelled Scott Myers' and Lupe Gonzalo's last name incorrectly. The interaction with Myers was incorrectly reported and updated.
UNC students, members of Student Action with Farmworkers and other local residents joined the farmworker leaders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in a Boot the Braids protest on Friday demanding the removal of Wendy's from UNC's campus. They marched from the upper quad to the Frank Porter Graham Student Union outside of Wendy’s with picket signs to raise awareness for their cause.
The protest was part of CIW's national boycott of Wendy’s because of the restaurant’s refusal to join their Fair Food Program, according to a press release. The Fair Food Program, which won the CIW the 2014 Presidential Medal for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking, ensures that retailers purchase their produce from suppliers with a worker-driven Code of Conduct. According to the CIW, Wendy’s buys its tomatoes from Mexican farms, where numerous systemic human rights violations have taken place, such as sexual abuse and slavery.
Sarah Benecky, an intern for the Alliance for Fair Food and a senior anthropology and global studies double major, said she wants people to think about how their food purchases could be farmed by people who work in modern day slave conditions.
“I think the only way to ensure that that's not happening, and we're having food with dignity and just food, is to get corporations to sign on to the fair food program, which is really a powerful initiative by the coalition that guarantees the protection of workers, prevents violence and provides an outlet for workers to contact if they feel unsafe and protect against sexual abuse,” Benecky said.
Carolina Dining Services Interim Director of Auxiliary Services Scott Myers came to the protest, listened to their demands and accepted a letter from the protesters, Benecky said.
Lupe Gonzalo, a farmworker with the CIW, said the campaign was led by students who are taking an active interest in where their food is coming from. She was translated by Yaissy Solis, an employee for Student Farmworker Alliance.
“And so we're seeing that students taking an interest in this, and they're supporting us in this campaign, and also calling on corporations like Wendy's to take that responsibility,” Gonzalo said. “And so when the students learn about this, they also get inspired to not just learn, but also take action. We're working together for justice, respect, and for human rights.”
The protest, which follows a similar protest that occurred in March, was inspired by the first campaign that the CIW launched in a boycott of Taco Bell on universities. Gonzalo said that the Taco Bell campaign was highly successful and spanned across 25 different universities all over the country. The CIW also has been doing these types of actions and protests for over twenty years.
“For many years farmworkers have faced different types of exploitation," Gonzalo said. "And there wasn't anyone to really take responsibility for those abuses, so we designed these types of protests in order for corporations to take that responsibility.”
Yeimi Tomas, a junior political science and global studies major, said she was part of SAF and has seen the working conditions these farmworkers have.
“That's why it's important to me because I'm seeing first hand how these workers are suffering every day,” Tomas said. “And all we want is for them to get the same type of services they need and also like for Wendy's to raise just one cent for their wages, so they can have a better wage for what they do every day.”
Wendy’s currently has a code of conduct that is voluntary, that has expectations rather than requirements of suppliers to commit to treating their workers fairly. However, they don’t have transparency with their third party auditing process, therefore organizations don’t know how Wendy’s actually treats their workers, Gonzalo said.
“And so in order for a complaint process to actually be functional, workers have to be empowered to speak up and know that their rights will be upheld if they report any types of abuses,” Gonzalo said. “And so right now Wendy doesn't disclose any of that information, they're just putting together in package and say that they're doing this, but there's no way to verify that.”
Benecky said that it’s especially important for students to use their voices with these boycotts, because the millennial generation is a target market for these fast food corporations. She’s hoping to motivate more students to progress the movement in the fall and provide a voice on campus for the protection of farmworkers.
“Come fall we're hoping to rally more students and create some sort of Boot the Braids committee where we can further the movement by obviously raising awareness possibly more demonstrations, not necessarily like pickets like we did, but just social media campaigns and more discussions with CDS to see if it's possible that we can really cut the contract with Wendy's,” Benecky said.
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