Our Voices

RFK Human Rights Urges Wendy’s to Protect Farmworkers

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Compass Investor Program has joined investors representing $1 trillion in AUM to pressure fast-food giant Wendy’s to do more to protect farmworkers in its supply chain during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

RFK Compass has signed a petition organized by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility specifically asking Wendy’s to join a worker-driven social responsibility program, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program (FFP). These types of initiatives are different from corporate social responsibility programs, which are voluntary pledges to ensure worker safety, fair labor practices, and wages. Worker-driven social responsibility involves legally binding agreements between companies and workers and monitoring by workers to ensure compliance with agreed-upon codes of conduct.

Put simply, the worker-driven approach blends social responsibility with accountability. And it works: A recent study of 40 social responsibility initiatives concluded that worker-driven social responsibility is “the only existing model with the proven potential to afford protection for the most vulnerable and lowest-wage workers in global supply chains.”

The gold standard in the industry is the FFP, an enforceable code of conduct that growers must abide by in order to sell their produce to the largest restaurant chains in the country. All of the largest U.S. restaurant and produce providers—including McDonald’s, Yum Brands, Burger King, Amazon’s Whole Foods Market, and Walmart—have signed on to the FFP, except Wendy’s.

Why is Wendy’s the holdout?

Wendy’s has its own supplier code of conduct and has said that it already pays a premium to its Florida tomato suppliers. But that premium is not a fair food premium that the workers of the FFP can monitor for compliance. That’s why, since 2013, farmworkers and their allies have been calling upon Wendy’s to join the FFP.

Investors added their voices to the chorus in March 2020, when they wrote to Wendy’s urging the company to join the FFP; Wendy’s never acknowledged receipt of their letter. Since then, the need for action has grown even more dire. Most low-wage farmworkers are Brown, Black, and Indigenous people of color—communities that have long suffered from the systemic racism companies like Wendy’s are now trying to address.

Farmworkers are the frontline workers of America’s food supply, and the nature of their work puts them at increased risk of infection from COVID-19. As Greg Asbed, FFP’s architect, explained at RFK Human Rights’ virtual investor summit last October, workers on farms that participated in the FFP were less impacted by the virus because the Coalition of Immokalee Workers leveraged the program to identify and implement best practices to halt its spread, saving lives and showing that companies should embrace worker-driven initiatives like the FFP if they wish to live up to their social responsibility pledges.

Wendy’s says on its website, “We believe that doing the right thing—for our people, our customers and our planet—is the only responsible way to do business.”

We urge the company to turn that statement into action and finally join the FFP.

If 2020 was the year of statements, then let’s make 2021 the year of actions. Now more than ever, they speak so much louder than words. Join us as we continue to hold Wendy’s accountable for protecting the farmworkers in their supply chains.