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An Open Statement to Burger King and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange

by the Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick Stated Clerk of the General Assembly Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

November 28, 2007

Louisville

In the course of history there have always been those who have opposed the advancement of human rights. But the fundamental truth of human dignity has always triumphed, if not immediately, then eventually. Burger King and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE) are using their power to try and turn back the inevitable progress of human rights for farmworkers. And their coordinated tactics, which squarely target some of the poorest, most vulnerable members of our society, are as morally repugnant as they are in vain.

Burger King has proclaimed that farmworkers are not poor and assailed the reputation of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), the Immokalee-based farmworker organization that has reached historic agreements with Yum! Brands and McDonald’s to improve wages and working conditions for tomato pickers. And while Burger King and the FTGE publicly deploy the fig leaf of “legal concerns” to buttress their refusal to join a successfully implemented model for delivering improved wages to farmworkers, the FTGE has privately threatened to fine any of its members that participate in the CIW’s established agreements with Yum! Brands or McDonald’s $100,000, according to the Miami Herald.

What shall we say to these things?

First, stop trying to rob poor farmworkers of the first meaningful raise they’ve had in almost thirty years. It’s malicious and shameful. These men and women deserve a fair wage for their backbreaking work — and their penny-per-pound wage increase comes at no cost to the growers and at little cost to the fast-food corporations. Stop trying to impede the CIW’s agreements with McDonald’s and Yum! Brands.

Second, stop saying that farmworkers aren’t poor. And stop saying untruthful things about the CIW, a human-rights award-winning organization lauded by the Robert F. Kennedy Center and the F.B.I., which partners with the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute modern-day slavery, and has just been awarded the premiere prize in the world from Anti-Slavery International for their “exceptional contribution towards tackling modern-day slavery in the United States agricultural industry.”

Third, stop resisting partnership with the CIW and the precedents established in the Yum! Brands and McDonald’s agreements. The agreements have been a positive step, not only for farmworkers, but for Yum! Brands and McDonald’s as well. These companies have discovered that it is possible to be socially responsible and profitable — that their consumers will reward them.

Considering the timing of the recent efforts of Burger King and the FTGE, one can only conclude that they are not simply attempting to deny farmworkers their dearly deserved increase in pay and power, but to demoralize supporters within the Campaign for Fair Food.

Burger King and FTGE need to understand that the Campaign for Fair Food has been endorsed by the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly and behind it stand thousands of members/potential customers who are committed to basic human rights for farmworkers. They have marched, they have written letters, they have spoken by their choice of where to eat. And they have rejoiced over the commitments made by Yum! Brands and McDonalds to work with CIW for better pay and better working conditions for farmworkers.

The intransigence and duplicity of Burger King and FTGE may delay justice for those who supply their tomatoes. And as Dr. King said, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” But they will not prevail. We are prepared to do what it takes, as long as it takes, walking hand in hand with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and all consumers of conscience to achieve the basic human rights for these farmworkers to which other industry leaders have committed.

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