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Seeking Living Wage and Humane Conditions, Immokalee Workers Bring Fair Food Struggle to Chipotle

StoryOctober 03, 2012
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Members of the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers are urging the fast-food giant Chipotle to sign on to a fair food program already agreed to by McDonald’s and Burger King. The Denver-based Chipotle has refused to sign a contract that would ensure a living wage and humane conditions for workers who pick the tomatoes it purchases. This weekend, the Immokalee workers will target a festival in Denver that is promoted by Chipotle, that features music, food, chefs and local farmers — but no farm workers. We’re joined by Gerardo Reyes-Chavez, a farm worker and organizer with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryApr 27, 2007Immokalee Tomato Pickers Win Campaign Against McDonald’s, Set Sights on Burger King
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are here in Denver, Colorado, as we turn to a six-year human rights campaign targeting the fast-food chain Chipotle, which is headquartered here in Denver. The first Chipotle Mexican Grill opened here in 1993 with the goal of serving a healthier version of fast food, such as burritos made from sustainable and naturally raised ingredients. The vision grew as the company expanded nationwide and is summed up in its motto, “food with integrity,” which is promoted in videos like this one.

STEVE ELLS: We really want to celebrate this idea of nourishing people and feeding them really, really great food.

STEVE KAHAN: It’s about cultivating relationships.

JONATHAN WAXMAN: Celebrating the land.

JUDE BECKER: Engaging in the process.

RICHARD BLAIS: You know, it’s like, to grow and to sort of like progress each and every day.

JONATHAN WAXMAN: The farmers are the stars here.

TONY MANTUANO: There are farmers and chefs that are working so hard to make sure your food tastes great and it’s raised right.

STEVE KAHAN: Small farmers care about what they do. People know where their food comes from.

NATE APPLEMAN: This is an important festival for Chipotle. We put all of our emphasis on the ingredients. And that’s what differentiates us between everyone else.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, despite Chipotle’s commitment to serving food that’s naturally raised with respect for the animals, the land and the farmers who produce it, the company has so far refused to sign a contract that would ensure a living wage and humane conditions for workers who pick the tomatoes it purchases. The contract would confirm its commitment to the Fair Food Program, a project led by the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

On Tuesday, local supporters joined the group for a protest outside Chipotle’s Denver headquarters, calling on it to join other major chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King who have signed on to the program. This weekend, they will be targeting a festival in Denver that’s promoted by Chipotle and features music, food, chefs and local farmers—but no farm workers.

Well, we’re pleased right now to be joined by one of the farm workers in our studio. Gerardo Reyes-Chavez is a farm worker and organizer with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s good to have you with us. You have come in to Denver to do exactly what on [October] 6th?

GERARDO REYES-CHAVEZ: We are here to talk about the reality of farm workers and the notion that farm workers, when you are talking about sustainability, in what Chipotle is saying, it’s nonexistent. The farm workers should be a central part of the conversation, and—

AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to fix your audio in a minute, so while we fix it, I want to go to a comment of Chipotle. Chipotle was not able to join us on the show today, but we did speak with them by phone. I want to play a short interview Democracy Now! producer Renée Feltz did Tuesday with Chipotle’s communications director, Chris Arnold. Renée began by asking Arnold why the company has refused to sign the [Coalition] of Immokalee Workers agreement to participate in the Fair Food Program. This was Chipotle’s response.

CHRIS ARNOLD: Well, we’ve always believed that you don’t need to have a contract to do the right thing and, in fact, have a very long track record driving positive change in the nation’s food supply and done all of the things that we’ve done without having third-party contracts. In terms of the transparency of auditing, I would say two things. First of all, they conduct the audits. CIW or their allies are conducting the audits of growers to determine their practices. As it relates to our purchases, we provide records of our Florida tomato purchases to CIW’s auditors so they can see what we’re buying from whom and for how much.

RENÉE FELTZ: And what about the reason that Chipotle will not sign the contract? What are your concerns?

CHRIS ARNOLD: The last time that we looked at this, which was about three years ago, there were provisions in the agreement that we had trouble with. The agreement takes into consideration only variables that matter to CIW, and there are a lot of things that matter to us in terms of sourcing the ingredients that we use. So, the thing that gave us—the point that gave us the most concern was that, at the time, there were, you know, no growers, initially, who were participating in CIW’s program, and then only one, initially, when the first grower came online. And yet the agreement requires that if you go outside of that system, you do so only with CIW’s approval. And that’s not a degree of control over our supply that we’re going to relinquish to anybody. If we can’t get ingredients that meet our high standards, we need to have the flexibility to go to other sources. We’re not going to compromise the quality of the food that we serve. And in effect, that provision in the agreement would have required that. Now, things have changed some since we’ve looked at that agreement, and today 90 percent of Florida’s tomatoes are grown under that agreement. So, it’s entirely possible that it’s no longer an issue.

RENÉE FELTZ: So, do you think that the company may reconsider now to sign the contract, in part, for example, because the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has presented the failure to sign the contract, so far, possibly as putting concerns over quality over concerns about the human rights of the workers? So, do you think that Chipotle may now reconsider signing the contract with them for the Fair Food Program?

CHRIS ARNOLD: Yeah, I think that’s certainly a possibility.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Chris Arnold, spokesperson for Chipotle, speaking to Democracy Now!'s Renée Feltz. Gerardo Reyes-Chavez, he's saying that they are weighing signing onto this contract.

GERARDO REYES-CHAVEZ: Yeah, there has been six years since they were first approached, and there’s been a lot of agreements that have been signed with other corporations, 10 in total—Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Burger King, just to give a few examples. Through that, through the Campaign for Fair Food, which is the approach that consumers nationwide are taking with us to convince corporations to motivate them to do the right thing, we have been able to create a Fair Food Program, which is addressing the abuses that have been historically happening in the tomato industry. For the first time, we created a whole new system to eliminate the abuses, to identify where abuses are going on and uproot them from the system. This is an opportunity for Chipotle to do the right thing. They claim that they sell food with integrity, and they are really focused on the sustainability part of that conversation as one of the main spokes-corporations. And what we are saying is, this is an opportunity for them to make it a reality.

AMY GOODMAN: But they say they’re making it a reality even without signing, that 90 percent of the tomatoes grown in Florida actually use this contract.

GERARDO REYES-CHAVEZ: It is true that 90 percent of the tomato industry is on board with us, but the question is, all of them need the support of the corporations buying. And the corporations need to pay a premium that addresses poverty wages, and that corporations need also to be able to cut purchases, if necessary, when there are abuses that are violated.

AMY GOODMAN: So, very quickly, October 6—I had mis-said November 6th. October 6th, this Saturday, you’re having a rally here. Your message to Chipotle at this big festival?

GERARDO REYES-CHAVEZ: Yeah, they are going to be talking about how good a corporation they are, and we’re going to be there to remind people that without workers, there is no food with integrity or without integrity; there is no food, period.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, Gerardo Reyes-Chavez, farm worker, organizer with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. And that does it for the show. Tune in tonight to our debate coverage as we expand it to include third-party candidates here in Denver. We’ll be beginning at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time. Your TV or radio station might be running it, but also you can go to democracynow.org. Democracy Now! is on a 100-city tour. We’ll be in Colorado Springs on Thursday night, then on to the Western Slope.

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Immokalee Tomato Pickers Win Campaign Against McDonald’s, Set Sights on Burger King

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