Students, community members and farmworkers marched from the South Building to the Wendy’s in the Frank Porter Graham Student Union Thursday, demanding that campus officials cut ties with the restaurant due to its refusal to adopt the pro-workers’ rights Fair Food Program.
The afternoon's event began around noon with a brief theatrical performance and ended 45 minutes later with chanting, marching and picketing just outside of Wendy's.
The demonstration was organized by the UNC Student/Farmworker Alliance, which has called for the chain to sign onto the Fair Food Program since March of last year. Chapter leader Marco Chumbimuni performed in the initial skit. On the steps of South Building, the location of Chancellor Carol Folt’s office, he criticized another actor portraying the chancellor for allowing the chain to maintain its presence on campus.
"Wendy's is not what you want on campus,” Chumbimuni said. "You say you're 'For All.' Why don't you show us that? Tell Wendy's that you're not welcome. Join us, your own students."
"I see what you're saying, and I love how supportive you are of farmworkers' rights in our community,” the other actor said, holding a large bag of money given to her by an actor dressed as the Wendy's mascot. “But there's really nothing more that I can do. My hands are tied."
The skit concluded soon after, with demonstrators grabbing signs with slogans like “Boycott Wendy’s” and “Hey Folt: Support Human Rights Now” before marching toward the on-campus Wendy’s. Once there, participants continued to picket outside the restaurant’s door, occasionally giving statements through a bullhorn.
The demonstration was scheduled during a class change in order to maximize exposure, Alliance leader and UNC junior Mia Shang said. The Workers Union at UNC and the Campus Y were also present. An individual from Campus Y read a statement of solidarity during a stop in the Pit.
"I think we had a great turnout," Shang said. "What's really important is that we were able to have this big show through campus to really get people's attention.”
Eric Sugarman, a senior environmental studies major, passed out pamphlets to onlookers as the demonstrators marched through Polk Place and the Pit. Like many participants, he said sustainably-sourced food is an easy cause to rally behind.
"Food is something that's really close to all of us, and it connects us universally,” Sugarman said. "There needs to be more emphasis on where our food is coming from, asking who our food is for, asking who is affected by our food and where it's sourced from.”
The Fair Food Program, which is a series of agreements between the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers and retail food companies, was launched in 2010. The program has been adopted by many of Wendy’s main competitors — McDonalds, Subway and Burger King — and has received praise from the United Nations, the MacArthur Fellowship and other humanitarian organizations.
In a statement to The Daily Tar Heel, UNC Director of Auxiliary Services Scott Myers cited specific protections for tomato growers, which have been a central focus of the Fair Food Program’s efforts.
“In 2017, following student concerns, the University worked with Wendy’s to ensure all of their tomatoes for UNC-Chapel Hill would be purchased through the Aramark supply chain, thereby ensuring that the tomatoes used at the Wendy’s on campus will be subject to the provisions of Aramark’s agreement with the CIW,” Myers said in the statement. “UNC-Chapel Hill will continue to both listen to student concerns when it comes to dining options, as well as work closely with Aramark to ensure sustainably sourced products are available for students.”
In an email, Shang called the University's response "half-hearted."
"Even if we were able to verify that the tomatoes on campus are sourced through the FFP, Wendy’s as a corporation remains stubbornly opposed to protecting the rights of farmworkers in its supply chain and continues to profit from the business of our students," she said. "The bottom line is that doing business with Wendy’s — and promoting its brand on campus — associates UNC with a company that has chosen to turn its back on the world’s leading program to end human rights abuses in agriculture."
Chumbimuni agreed, saying students would accept "nothing less than the Fair Food Program."
"There is no halfway when it comes to doing the right thing," Chumbimuni said.
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