Friday, December 11, 2009

Steve Ells Challenged to a Debate on the Merits of the Campaign for Fair Food!

In an incisive critique of Chipotle's asinine excuses for not joining the Campaign for Fair Food, Food and Society Fellow Sean Sellers has thrown down the virtual gauntlet and challenged Chipotle CEO Steve Ells to a debate. Below is an excerpt from the must-read article.

Read Sean's full article on
Food with Integrity?
Steve Ells, will you accept the "Chipotle Challenge?"

“Of course I’m not in favor of slavery! But signing an agreement [with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers] does not actually change those conditions for farmworkers,” Steve Ells, CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill, gibed in front of an audience of 250 at the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School of Business on November 19. “I mean, they just don’t see the bigger picture,” he continued. “To change the fast-food paradigm is huge. We’re trying to do the right thing.”

Ells’ defensive posture came in immediate response to a question posed by Marina Saenz-Luna, a staff member of Just Harvest USA, who works closely with the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Since 2006, the grassroots farmworker organization has petitioned Chipotle – a leading fast-casual restaurant chain specializing in gourmet burritos – to enter into an agreement to improve wages and working conditions for Florida tomato pickers. Four years later, farmworkers’ and consumers’ stomachs have soured in light of Chipotle’s persistent hostility towards the workers’ organization.

It didn’t have to be this way. Ells founded Chipotle in 1993 with an $85,000 start-up loan from his father. The venture has since bloomed into one of Fortune’s 100 fastest-growing companies with over 800 restaurant nationwide. Along the way, Chipotle has emerged as a self-styled leader in the fields of sustainable agriculture and socially responsible supply chain management through its highly publicized commitment to “Food With Integrity.”

Chipotle explains on its website that, “‘Food With Integrity’ isn’t a marketing slogan.” Rather, it “means working back along the food chain. It means going beyond distributors to discover how the vegetables are grown, how the pigs, cows and chickens are raised, where the best spices come from.” For his part, Ells, the chef-cum-corporate executive, reflects, “Learning about this dark side of modern agriculture made me want to find out how we could do things differently.”

Yet Chipotle has responded to the human rights crisis in Florida’s fields – including seven federally prosecuted cases of modern-day slavery since 1997 – with silence, evasion, and cynical spin. And Ells seemingly has no compunction about using his high-profile speaking engagements to spread misinformation about the CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food and the impact of his company’s policies on farmworkers.

What is at stake is not mere public relations dividends or quarrels over the meaning of “integrity.” Chipotle apparently believes that farmworkers are incapable of developing mutually beneficial solutions to the problems they face within the agricultural industry. And though Chipotle is but a tiny player within a massive food industry landscape, their stance flies in the face of core principles painstakingly advanced by the Campaign for Fair Food over the past decade: farmworker participation in the protection of their own labor rights; supply chain transparency; and third-party verification and monitoring.

It’s easy to shut down debate and mock earnest criticism when one stands alone at the podium and holds the microphone. But a closer reading of the recent exchange between Ells and Saenz-Luna belies a festering insecurity within Ells and his company over its chosen course of action.

So here’s my challenge: Let’s have a real debate, Mr. Ells, at any public forum of your choosing. After all, if you can’t back up your position, then integrity demands that you change it.

Read the full article on here at

Friday, December 4, 2009

Denver is on the move!

It’s been a while since we’ve provided an update. But that’s not because nothing has been happening in Denver. On the contrary, we’ve been too busy to have time to update everyone.

On Friday November 20th, the Student Advisory Committee to the Auraria Board (SACAB; a student government body comprised of representatives from the three different universities housed on the Auraria Campus) passed a resolution urging the campus food service provider Sodexo to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. The resolution reads in part:

“AHEC [Auraria Higher Education Center] has an ongoing contractual relationship for the provision of catering and dining services with the food service corporation Sodexo; and . . . we, SACAB Representatives, through our student fees, and the use of catering services fund this food service contract between AHEC and the Sodexo corporation . . . THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that SACAB urges the Sodexo corporation to meet with the CIW to negotiate the terms for directly improving Florida tomato pickers' wages by $.01 per pound of tomatoes, and, together with the CIW, implement an enforceable, human rights-based Code of Conduct for its tomato supply chain.”

The other student government bodies at Auraria are moving forward with passing resolutions of their own.

The same day as SACAB passed it’s resolution, students from throughout the Front Range gathered on the Auraria Campus to discuss participating in the Dine With Dignity campaign on the own campuses and coordinating their efforts with students throughout Denver and around the state. Sodexo is not only the food service provider on Auraria Campus but also on all the other campuses in Denver and many campuses throughout Colorado. And students from those many campuses are preparing to take action to hold Sodexo accountable for the human rights abuses occurring in it’s tomato supply chain.

Meanwhile, a delegation of Denver Fair Foodistas paid a visit to a certain Denver-based “fast casual” restaurant chain. No, not THAT restaurant chain. This time it was a visit to the corporate offices of sub-sandwich giant Quiznos. Unlike our other experiences with Denver’s other fast casual food corporations, Quiznos actually listened to us in a respectful manner and even expressed support for the principles of Fair Food. Of course, more than just words are needed; action is needed, and we will be watching Quiznos closely to ensure that it joins the growing mass of corporate food purchasers cooperating with the CIW to create a more just food system.

(We hope that Chipotle doesn’t like think that we’ve forgotten about it just because we’re paying attention to Quiznos. No need to feel left out, Chipotle, we've still got an eye for you!)

During this same busy week, Denver consumers also participated in the National Supermarket Week of Action by delivering letters to the mangers of King Sooper supermarkets demanding that Kroger (King Sooper’s parent company and the largest supermarket chain in the country) join in agreement with the CIW.

Throughout the country, the Campaign for Fair Food is pressing forward at rapid speed. Pickets, rallies, marches, letter drops, street theater and more have been breaking out from California to Florida. Just next week the CIW is holding a major march on headquarters of the Florida-based supermarket Publix while student and grassroot allies are planning a demonstration outside the corporate offices of food service provider Aramark in Philadelphia as part of the Fair Food Solidarity Tour led by United Workers.

Everyone in Denver has a lot to be proud of as part of this incredible movement.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Campus Gathering for 'Dine with Dignity'

Friday, November 20th
at Auraria Campus
Multicultural Lounge, Tivoli Student Union builidng
900 Auraria Pkwy., Denver, CO

Calling all students, faculty and staff from Front Range colleges and universities:
Join us for a meeting to share information and make plans for a "Dine with Dignity" Campaign targeting campus food service provider Sodexo.

Dine with Dignity is a campaign led by the Student/Farmworker Alliance in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to demand that major dining services contractors such as Sodexo take steps to improve the wages and protect the human rights of farmworkers who pick tomatoes bought by these companies.

These companies often hold monopolies on campus dining and catering and charge us exorbitant prices for meals and catering, while we have little input into what ends up on our plates, where it comes from or how it was produced. However by working together in alliance with farmworkers, we can hold Sodexo accountable to the demands of students and workers for human rights and greater participation at all levels of the food supply chain.

Sodexo is one of the largest food service providers in the country and has contracts with all the campuses in Denver -- Regis University, University of Denver and Auraria (home to University of Colorado Denver, Metro State College of Denver and Community College of Denver) -- as well as other universities in Colorado including Ft. Lewis College, Colorado State University and University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

We hope we can coordinate our efforts to bring pressure to bear on Sodexo.

Contact for more info

Florida tomato pickers receive sub-poverty wages and are denied fundamental worker rights like overtime pay and the right to organize. They earn about 45 cents for every 32-lb. bucket of tomatoes they pick – a rate that has not changed significantly in 30 years. At that rate, a worker must harvest over 2.5 TONS of tomatoes to earn the equivalent of Florida minimum wage for a 10-hour workday. In the most extreme cases, this everyday sweatshop climate of little pay and little rights tips over into actual modern-day slavery. More info

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a Florida-based grassroots organization of farmworkers who are fighting for human rights and dignified working conditions. Their work combating modern-day slavery has garnered them international recognition.

Through the Campaign for Fair Food, the CIW in alliance with consumers has sought to hold major fast-food chains and food retailers accountable for the human rights crisis faced by farmworkers in their supply chains. The Campaign for Fair Food has led to precedent-setting agreements with Yum! Brands (owner of Taco Bell, KFC, and others), McDonald's, Burger King, Subway and Whole Foods. Most recently the CIW reached an agreement with Compass Group, one of the nation's largest campus food service providers.

For more background, see here.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Denver knows how to party!

The people of Denver have been working hard for 2+ years to build alliances with and advance the grassroots struggle of farmworkers in Florida. And last Friday we celebrated our hard work, knowing that such bonds between communities are the foundation for the better world for which we're all fighting.

But we weren't just there to celebrate our past, imbibe tasty drinks, and enjoy delicious tomato-themed snacks. This was also a celebration of our future. Denver Fair Food has big plans for the struggle ahead and we need EVERYONE to join with us. There is a lot to watch out for including rumors of a campus upsurge against Sodexo, solidarity with grocery workers in negotiation with King Soopers, increasing scrunity of Denver's own Quizno's, and of course the ongoing struggle with Chipotle.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

300 Defeated!

In testament to the fact that there ain't no power like the power of the people 'cause the power of the people won't stop, a broad coalition of Mile High City organizations soudly defeated Initiative 300 with 70% of voters casting a whopping "NO."

The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition statement on the victory:
From the Denver Post:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

No on 300 / Chipotle's 'Integrity' slogan draws heat

Everyone in Denver is encouraged to vote NO on Initiative 300 on the Denver ballot. To learn more go here. Also there are still important voluteer opportunities to get out the vote to defeat this initiative which you can inquire about here.

The 'vehicle impound initiative' was brought to the ballot by local anti-immigrant zealots, and it's impact will be disproportionately felt by poor people and communities of color. Everyone from the Libertarian Party to the police to the Denver Area Labor Federation oppose it. It is misleading, vague and dangerous.

Speaking of things which are misleading, vague and dangerous, Chipotle comes to mind. We want to share with you an article that actually got the story right about Chipotle where so many other journalists have failed. Coming to us from the Fresno Bee:

Chipotle's 'Integrity' slogan draws heat
Published online on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2009
by Jane Obra

As Chipotle Mexican Grill tests its new kids' menu, the company faces scrutiny over its slogan, "Food With Integrity."

First, some background: The Denver-based chain is pushing kids' meals -- such as the $3.95 taco kit and the $3.50 small meat and cheese quesadilla -- at its restaurants in Fig Garden Village, Clovis and Visalia.

There are deals on Sundays between Oct. 18 and Nov. 8. On these days, children get a free meal when their parents buy one adult entree.

To boost sales, Chipotle is touting its philosophy. The chain buys some organic and locally grown produce. It uses meat from humanely-raised animals; they are fed a vegetarian diet and are free of antibiotics and added hormones. And its cheese and sour cream don't come from cows treated with synthetic recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH).

"It's never been more critical for kids to learn the importance of making smart food choices," says Steve Ells, founder, chairman and co-chief executive officer of Chipotle. "We've found a way to make dining fun for kids and parents alike -- we fuss over quality ingredients so parents don't have to."

Well, some folks are fussing over Chipotle's use of Florida tomatoes. The nonprofit Coalition of Immokalee Workers says Chipotle doesn't do enough to ensure fair pay and safe conditions for the workers who pick its tomatoes.

Between December and May, the nation's tomato supply comes primarily from southern Florida. Pickers earn 45-50 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes, the coalition says. That's about the same wage they earned 40 years ago.

Some of these pickers even live in virtual slavery. Last year, the Navarrete family made headlines for its treatment of 12 immigrant farmworkers.

In court documents, workers described staying in locked trucks and shacks with no toilets. They say they were beaten and forced to pay for food, as well as the privilege of bathing with a garden hose. Brothers Cesar and Geovanni Navarrete pleaded guilty to counts of deprivation of civil rights.

It wasn't an isolated incident. Since the late 1990s, prosecutions in seven similar court cases resulted in the freedom of more than 1,000 workers.

By highlighting these problems, the coalition pressured Burger King, McDonald's, Subway and other retailers into paying a penny more per pound for Florida tomatoes -- a wage increase that would go directly to the pickers. These agreements with the coalition force retailers to buy only Florida tomatoes that meet a mutual code of conduct.

Chipotle did not sign an agreement with the coalition. Company spokesman Chris Arnold told the Rocky Mountain News in 2006 that its Florida tomato suppliers met Chipotle's standards.
"Just because an activist group doesn't like what we're doing, it doesn't mean there's something wrong with what we're doing," Arnold said. "Not all tomato growers are the same. They're painting all of the Florida tomato industry with the same brush."

Chipotle offered another reason for resisting an agreement with the coalition. The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, which counts most Florida tomato growers as members, forbade the growers from paying workers the extra money. About $1.5 million in payments for farmworkers sits in an escrow account, says Lucas Benitez, a member of the coalition.

A breakthrough occurred when East Coast Growers and Packers, which bills itself as one of Florida's three largest tomato growers, dropped out of the exchange. It has since signed deals directly with Chipotle, Compass Group (a leading food service company) and McDonald's, pledging to pass on the penny-per-pound raise to the farmworkers, says Batista Madonia Jr., East Coast's vice president and sales manager.

East Coast is the third farm to pass the penny-per-pound raise directly to workers. In June, Lady Moon Farms and Alderman Farms signed a similar agreement with Whole Foods Market.
Benitez praises Whole Foods, Compass Group and McDonald's for having agreements with both the coalition and these farms.

He is wary about Chipotle because the coalition doesn't have oversight of its agreement with East Coast.

Chipotle benefits from good publicity over its relationship with East Coast, but it "is not obligated to continue to pay the penny and to continue to empower the code of conduct because they don't have any agreement with the farmworkers," Benitez says.
For its part, Chipotle declined to provide its code of conduct, but Arnold says it explicitly addresses "such important issues as third-party auditing, treatment of workers, wages and working conditions, and pesticide and chemical usage, among others."
The columnist can be reached at or (559) 441-6365. Read her blog at author/joan_obra.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Our tomatoes are picked by slaves"

This photo was snapped in April of 2006 somewhere around the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Aside from it bringing a smile to our faces, we're sharing it here today not in order to claim that Chipotle's tomatoes are or ever have been picked by slave labor. Perhaps Chipotle would like to answer that question?

What we do have to say is just a quick comment on what will be necessary to end the all too real slavery in the Florida agricultural industry and Chipotle’s failure in this regard.

We propose that the elimination of slavery will necessitate that farmworkers have the ability to participate at all levels in the protection of their own rights. After all, since it is farmworkers’ powerlessness and lack of a voice in the industry which has set the stage for them to be easily exploited and at times enslaved, ending that exploitation would logically require that farmworkers have greater power over their lives and labor and be able to decide for themselves what’s in their best interest. Furthermore, the incredible progress which we are witnessing toward farmworker justice has come about only because farmworkers themselves joined together as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and fought for it – without the people in the fields leading the struggle, change would never and will never occur.

What did Chipotle exclude from its recent agreement with East Coast Growers which it boasts will improve the wages of tomato pickers? Chipotle excluded farmworkers from participating at any level in the protection of their own rights.

Excluding farmworkers from developing, monitoring and enforcing the standards which they believe are necessary for the defense of their rights is a sure fire way to stall improvements of working conditions and make reforms meaningless. It is the perfect way to maintain a status quo in which exploitation and abuse thrive.

Chipotle’s approach comes in stark contrast to the recent other agreement that East Coast Growers made to improve the wages and working conditions of farmworkers – this one with the CIW and the major food service provider Compass Group. Not only does the East Coast, CIW, Compass agreement, provide for much higher standards for workers’ rights and working conditions than Chipotle's, but at the heart there is a fundamental difference which Rev. Noelle Damico beautifully captured at the announcement of the agreement: “This is not an agreement in which farmworkers are ‘done unto.’ Farmworkers have been full partners in the creation of this agreement and will be full partners in its implementation, because the agreement and its partners recognize each other as human beings who are entitled to respect, voice, and participation.”

Talk all it will about antibiotic-free chicken, “food with integrity,” and even making “a difference in the lives of workers who pick tomatoes for Chipotle,” Chipotle is still on the side of slavery as long as it is not on the side of workers. Sin el pueblo no hay la justicia.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Party for Fair Food! A Celebration of Two Years and Going of Farmworker Solidarity in Denver

Friday, November 6
7:30pm - ????
FREE, All Ages
@ the Flobots' Community Space
2705 Larimer St.Denver, CO
Denver Fair Food is throwing a party! After two years of success and struggle, we believe it is long past due to thank the broader Denver metro community for its inspiring, unwavering support of the Campaign for Fair Food.
As a small token of gratitude to the Mile High City, we at Denver Fair Food would like to invite you, your friends, and your family to a night of celebration at the Flobots' community space.
There will be music, drinks, amazing people and plenty of tomato-themed snacks! As well as slide shows from our actions in Denver, campaign updates, visioning for the future, and artwork from the movement!
Since the Campaign for Fair Food still has a long way to go - such as the ongoing campaign against Chipotle and new campaigns against King Soopers and others - and here in Denver we plan on seeing it all the way through, this celebration is not just of the past but of the future. What a great opportunity to get plugged in to the campaign if you have been disconnected lately or are looking for how to begin contributing to this beautiful movement!
Denver Fair Food: we are community members in and around Denver who work in partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a grassroots human rights organization of farmworkers working to end modern-day slavery and sweatshop labor conditions in Florida agriculture. Through an alliance of Denver residents and Florida workers, we seek to transform the purchasing practices of the corporate food industry in order to advance the human rights of farmworkers at the bottom of corporate supply chains.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Student/Farmworker Alliance E-Action!

In concert with the Student/Farmworker Alliance's "Dine with Dignity" national week of action, the Student Labor Action Project has launched an e-action. It takes just a second to participate and will make a strong statement for Sodexo and Aramark to join the Campaign for Fair Food.

Just click the link below!

Monday, October 5, 2009

"Greatest Victory for Farmworkers since Cesar Chavez in the 1970s"

As this blog noted earlier, on September 25, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Compass Group, and East Coast Growers announced "sweeping changes to benefit tomato harvesters" at a press conference in the nation's capital! Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis attended the event, lending firm support to the Campaign for Fair Food.

Not only has Compass, the world's largest food service provider, embraced the principles of the Campaign for Fair Food - representing another major victory for the CIW in and of itself . . .

. . . But finally - for the first time - farmworkers, retail food leaders and growers are working together as true partners in the protection of farmworker rights. The vision so relentlessly pursued by the CIW of an agricultural industry in which farmworkers are not treated as machines to be exploited but as equals who have a rightful voice in the decisions which impact their lives, is finally beginning to come to fruition!

That is why Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser said of the agreement: "There's no question that this is the greatest victory for farmworkers since Cesar Chavez in the 1970s."

To see what others are saying go to the CIW website ( For all the details about the agreement read the joint press release. Also be sure to check out the CIW's exclusive photo report from the event.

To conclude, we'd like to highlight one statement from the press conference - that of Rev. Noelle Damico of the Prebyterian Church (USA) - which illuminates so well the failings of other food companies who have recently made big new claims to supporting the rights of farmworkers:

"The mutual respect that is demonstrated in this agreement [between CIW, Compass and East Coast Growers] and at this signing is the fuel that will propel the promise of this agreement into its reality... This agreement is significant because it reminds our society of the fundamental dignity and equality we share as human beings. This is not an agreement in which farmworkers are 'done unto.' Farmworkers have been full partners in the creation of this agreement and will be full partners in its implementation, because the agreement and its partners recognize each other as human beings who are entitled to respect, voice, and participation."

We hope Chipotle Mexican Grill is paying attention.

Monday, September 28, 2009

"The Beginning of the End of the Harvest of Shame"

Make sure you stay up to date on the exciting new victory for the Campaign for Fair Food!

Compass/Coaltion of Immokalee Workers Press Release
From the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

From the Student/Farmworker Alliance
"A Compass for Fair Food" from The Nation
"Tomato Workers Win New Pay Deal" from News Press
"Tomato Pickers' Penny per Pound is 'Right Before God'" from FloridaCatholic
"Farmworkers' Wages to Increase" from the Washington Post (or see below)

After over a decade of struggle, one thing is clear: the CIW and the Campaign for Fair Food are winning! With the largest fast food, food service, and natural grocery companies on board, we can't help thing out loud, "how long until Chipotle formally joins us on the winning side of justice?"

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Farm Workers' Wages to Increase Under Labor Agreement

Farm Workers' Wages to Increase Under Labor Agreement

Washington Post Staff Writer 
Friday, September 25, 2009; 2:34 PM

In what Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis called a "huge victory" for farm workers, one of the country's largest food service companies announced Friday that it will buy winter tomatoes only from growers that pay a fair wage and offer good working conditions.

The Compass Group, which buys 10 million pounds of tomatoes annually, will pay an additional 1.5 cents per pound for all the tomatoes it purchases; one cent per pound will go directly to the workers.

That might not sound like a lot. But it will boost workers' wages from 50 cents for a 32-pound bucket to 82 cents per bucket, a 64 percent raise. The decision, made in partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a South Florida farm workers organization, also includes a strict code of conduct to monitor hours worked and employee safety. East Coast Growers and Packers, the third-largest tomato grower in Florida, has agreed to Compass's terms.

"The future of Florida agriculture is contained within this agreement," said Lucas Benitez, co-founder of the CIW. "It is a future founded on mutual respect and mutual benefit."

The Compass agreement is another sign of how American companies are expanding their definitions of sustainability. This year, Starbucks launched a multimillion-dollar ad campaign trumpeting the ethical production of its coffee. In March, Unilever announced that all the tea sold under the Lipton brand had been certified by the Rainforest Alliance, a nonprofit organization that mandates worker welfare standards.

"It's no longer only about the nutritional value of food but how it's produced and collected," Solis said in an interview at the Newseum, where the agreement was announced. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack could not attend the event, but, in a message delivered by Solis, he called the agreement a "meaningful step, not only for tomato harvesters, but as an expression of the value of farm workers in our agricultural system as a whole."

Compass is not the first to sign an agreement with the CIW: McDonalds, Burger King and Yum Brands also have agreed to pay higher wages. But many workers never saw the money. In 2007, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, a trade association that says it represents more than 90 percent of state production, barred its members from passing on the increase to workers. The CIW estimates that as much as $1.5 million is being held in escrow.

With the promise of business from Compass and other large food corporations such as McDonalds, East Coast decided to resign from the growers exchange. "It's an unpopular decision with my competition," said Batista Madonia Jr., East Coast's vice president and sales manager. "But it doesn't cost our business anything. And it was the right thing to do."

Compass first became involved with the coalition in April, when its subsidiary Bon Appetit Management Co. issued a challenge to Florida growers: If no tomato grower would pass on the extra penny to the workers and improve working conditions, Bon Appetit would not serve tomatoes in the winter at its 400 college and corporate cafeterias.

Bon Appetit was not big enough to sway any of the large growers; last month, it cut a deal with independent tomato grower Alderman Farms. But its efforts did attract the attention of its corporate parent, which operates 10,000 cafeterias in public schools, hospitals and government buildings, including the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

"We hope this will set the standard for other food service companies," said Chris Ashcroft, executive vice president of human resources at Compass. "We're using our leverage for change."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Celebrating a victory while continuing to call on Chipotle...

East Coast Growers and Packers -- one of Florida's largest tomato growers -- has agreed to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and food industry leaders to implement the CIW'S Fair Food agreements, including the penny-per-pound raise to harvesters, supply chain transparency, and a stringent code of conduct! This is a major victory in the Campaign for Fair Food and for all of us in Denver who have been working in solidarity with the CIW. In many ways it represents the culmination of the over 15 years of struggle by the CIW -- what may very well be a turning point in Florida farm labor power relations.

This major breakthrough was made possible by the growing purchasing power that the CIW in alliance with consumers nationwide have marshaled behind the principles of the Campaign for Fair Food -- the more than 65,000 restaurants across the country represented by Yum! Brands, McDonalds, Burger King, and Subway that are now committed to buying from growers that work with the CIW to implement the penny per pound wage increase, code of conduct, and farmworker participation in the monitoring system. Ultimately it was the collective purchasing power of those food industry giants that broke the two-year old logjam created by the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange's resistance to the CIW's campaign.

Furthermore, thanks to the CIW's Fair Food agreements, these companies will be working in partnership with the farmworkers of the CIW in a transparent manner in order to ensure that the farmworkers are receiving the wage increase and that the code of conduct is being followed.

Chipotle, however...

Last week, before the agreement with East Coast could be made public by the CIW or any of the other parties involved, Chipotle issued a press release claiming the agreement as the product of its labors alone.

Chipotle, rather than make a transparent, formal commitment to work with the CIW to implement a real code of conduct and the penny per pound wage increase, has seized instead on this latest news in an effort to score cheap public relations points. Indeed the only thing transparent about Chipotle's surprise press release was the brazenness of their decision to take sole credit for something it couldn't have accomplished on its own in a million years.

Just do the math.

Total market share of companies in formal agreements with the CIW, agreements that commit those companies to buying from any participating grower: over 65,000 restaurants.

Chipotle: 830

While Chipotle may have been involved in a multi-party process that brought about the East Coast decision, there is no disputing the fact that Chipotle was -- by far -- the smallest piece of the puzzle. And yet, Chipotle was the only company to jump out alone and shout from the highest mountain, "Look what I did!"

Looks like someone might have been a little too eager to wash over the public relations mess left behind by the "Food, Inc." fiasco. Unfortunately, no amount of grandstanding can substitute for real reform.

To be clear: Chipotle still has not signed an agreement with the CIW to pay the penny per pound and has not agreed to work with them to implement a code of conduct which would guarantee farmworkers the ability to participate in the protection of their own rights. There is no way for the CIW to verify that Chipotle is even paying the penny per pound, as there is no agreement on regular reporting or transparency.

East Coast's agreement to work with the CIW is something we should celebrate -- while we continue to call on Chipotle to do the right thing. (See the CIW website for all the latest.)

Monday, September 14, 2009

At long last, a grower steps forward!

The following update from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers announces an incredible victory in the Campaign for Fair Food.

Unfortunately, Chipotle has released confusing and misleading information about it's role in this triumph. This blog will no doubt have more to say about Chipotle's latest PR antics. For now though we refer you to our post Celebrating a victory while continuing to call on Chipotle....

With the start of the new season only weeks away, East Coast Growers and Packers -- one of Florida's largest tomato growers -- has agreed to work with the CIW and food industry leaders to implement the CIW'S Fair Food agreements, including the penny-per-pound raise to harvesters, supply chain transparency, and a stringent code of conduct.

The agreements -- six in all, among them the world's four largest restaurant companies and the leading organic grocer -- had been held up for nearly two years by the resistance of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE), the powerful industry lobby.
"The past two years have been difficult, as farmworkers in Immokalee and throughout Florida have been stubbornly denied the benefits of the Fair Food agreements thanks to the FTGE," said Lucas Benitez of the CIW. "But we never stopped organizing, and during those two years some of the industry's largest buyers of tomatoes signed on to the agreements, creating an ever larger share of the market committed to purchasing tomatoes only from growers who agree to meet the higher standards called for by the CIW."

"We are extremely pleased that East Coast has shown the courage and the vision to seize on this tremendous opportunity and by so doing help lead the Florida tomato industry toward a fairer, more sustainable future," added Gerardo Reyes, also of the CIW. "We will be working closely with East Coast and our food industry partners in the coming weeks to ensure that we have an effective mechanism in place for passing the penny-per-pound to the workers and a solid plan for monitoring compliance with the code of conduct. There is still much work to be done but, at long last, we are working together, and when we work together -- farmworkers, growers, retailers, and consumers -- we can forge a relationship that will benefit all of us."

With a major grower now committed to implementing the CIW agreements, the Campaign for Fair Food turns to those companies that have remained on the sidelines, companies like Publix and Kroger, Sodexo and Aramark, Wendy's and Quizno's, Costco and WalMart.

The familiar excuses for inaction -- "we don't get involved in disputes between our suppliers and their employees," or "but there's no way to get the penny to the workers" -- no longer hold.

The question to those companies now is simple: Will your company support social responsibility? Will your company put its purchasing power behind those in the Florida tomato industry who are willing to do the right thing for their workers, or will you continue to support the growers who stand against progress?

The time for stalling is over. Now, to borrow a phrase, is the season for action.

Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Monday, September 7, 2009

No justice, no sustainability: ‘Time’ was right about cheap food—but forgot farmworkers

This is a great article published at and takes Chipotle to task for leaving farmworkers out of its definition of "sustainable."

By Sean Sellers

The widely read recent Time cover story “Getting Real about the High Price of Cheap Food” is a useful complement to current discussions about our food system. It offers further evidence of the mainstreaming of ideas and practices that were considered radical or irrelevant a mere decade ago.

But the author errs by avoiding any mention of the three million farm laborers who pick our fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, this omission is not simply limited to one article. Rather the idea that farmworkers somehow exist apart from our food system routinely comes across as the conventional wisdom framing many discussions about sustainability.

The undeniable reality is that farmworkers form the base of the food industry, and their brutal exploitation dates back centuries. It is reasonable to point out that the U.S. has never fully grappled with the noxious legacies of racism, violence, and disenfranchisement that underwrote the growth of much large-scale agriculture: first in the form of chattel slavery; and later with convict labor, sharecropping, and debt peonage.

Today, migrant farmworkers are among the poorest, least-protected workers in the nation. The Department of Labor describes them as a workforce “in significant economic distress,” and leading social scientists corroborate these findings. Farmworkers toil on both conventional and organic farms, often in similarly degraded working conditions.

In Florida, the poverty and powerlessness at the heart of the agricultural industry have created fertile ground for modern-day slavery. In the last decade alone, federal prosecutors have uncovered seven cases of forced labor in Florida’s fields preying upon native-born and immigrant workers alike. These prosecuted cases are, as the U.S. Attorney’s office says, just the tip of the iceberg.

Yet there are hopeful signs amidst this dire human rights crisis, as well as important opportunities for sustainable agriculture advocates.

The Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is leading a strategic, broadly supported reform effort. To improve tomato harvesters’ wages and working conditions, the CIW has forged innovative accords with Whole Foods Market and Bon Apetit Management Company, as well as the world’s four largest fast-food companies (Yum Brands, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Subway). The agreements harness the purchasing power of large buyers to raise the harvesting wage floor, create a structural voice for workers in the industry, and establish market consequences for growers who use forced labor. These companies deserve credit for exhibiting leadership on an issue of pressing importance.

Foodie darling Chipotle, however, steadfastly refuses the historic opportunity to partner with the CIW. The company has instead opted for a go-it-alone approach to address farmworker exploitation. This deserves scrutiny. In an industry with such an overwhelming imbalance of power between employer and employee, farmworkers are uniquely situated to identify the root cause of the problems they face and advance practical solutions. Their participation at all levels is vital to any meaningful change.
Human rights are integral to real sustainability. It is past time to bring farmworkers in from the periphery of these discussions, particularly when the abuses in question are so flagrant and systemic. Any honest reckoning with our food system - from magazine articles to supply chain purchasing policies - must treat farmworkers as indispensable partners worthy of a seat at the table.

Sean Sellers is a Food and Society Fellow at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

Monday, August 31, 2009

On Our Own Terms: Become a Sustaining Member of SFA Today!

Sign up today! -

"Becoming a sustainer is one of the easiest and most direct ways to enable this important work to continue on its own terms." -Sean, former SFA staff member

How much do you spend every week on coffee or beer? Every month?

How much do you spend when you go to the movies?

What if, for a fraction of what you might spend on those items, you could make a monthly contribution to help the Student/Farmworker Alliance — one of today's most dynamic youth and student movements fighting for economic justice — achieve new victories and climb new heights as we work to transform our food system (and build a base of stable, independent, no-strings-attached, grassroots funding in the process)?

Today you can. Click here <> for more information on this exciting new campaign and to become a Student/Farmworker Alliance Sustaining Member!

As a SFA Sustaining Member, a small monthly contribution of your choice ($5, $10...) will automatically and securely be deducted from your bank or credit account to help our movement grow.

We've set a very lofty goal that we'll only reach with all of your support: To sign up enough Sustaining Members so that SFA earns at least $1,000/month, nearly covering an entire SFA staff member's salary and allowing us to divert that money to our exciting organizing work!

And, as if helping to build a national student/youth movement and securing human rights and dignified wages for farmworkers wasn't enough, we have some exciting incentives and goodies in store for Sustainers: check out the details at <>, where you could also find talking points and info to help you recruit other Sustainers.

On the eve of our 5th-annual Encuentro and a season of intense organizing and action around the Dine with Dignity campaign, our movement is stronger than ever. It also needs your support more than ever. We all know that money is tight in these tough economic times, but with just a small contribution, you (& your friends, family members, and co-workers) can strengthen our movement as we continue to fight for fair food, dignity, and respect!

In Solidarity,
The Immokalee crew & 2009 SFA Steering Committee

“I see something special when I see SFA in action. It gives me hope that this world will be a better place, and I see us transforming it little by little, one corporate giant after another." - Juan, SFA member

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Monday, August 24, 2009

When will we be satisfied? Delivering the open letter to chipotle and reflecting on the negotiable and non-negotiable in human rights

When we presented Chipotle with the names 16,000 people, including key leaders from the food justice and sustainable food movements – not to mention the makers of the very film that Chipotle CEO Steve Ells thinks everyone should go see – who signed an open letter to the company stating that “we view the CIW’s struggle for dignity as a non-negotiable part of the struggle for a sustainable food system,” the company did not embrace the call of thousands of concerned consumers that it “work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers as true partners in the protection of farmworker rights.” Instead the company told us, in more words or less, that the human rights of farmworkers are negotiable and can be negated for their business preferences.

To give a little background, in July Chipotle announced that it was sponsoring 32 free screenings around the country of the hard-hitting new documentary Food, Inc. As part of its long-running efforts to align itself with the growing movement for sustainable food, Chipotle explained that “the issues raised by the film Food, Inc. are important and complex, and everything we do at Chipotle strives to address them.”

But the many allies of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers were not about to let Chipotle off the hook so easily. For far too long, Chipotle has left out a vital perspective from its vision of sustainable food – that is the view from farmworkers, the women and men who perform the difficult and dangerous work of harvesting the food we eat. Just a few weeks before Chipotle announced it’s Food, Inc. promotional deal, more than two-dozen prominent activists from the sustainable food and food justice worlds issued the above-mentioned open letter to Chipotle. Among the letter’s signers are none other than the director of Food, Inc. Robert Kenner and co-producer Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation).

Outside the Chipotle-sponsored Food, Inc. screenings, Fair Food activists circulated the open letter among moviegoers and collected more signatures of support. American Rights at Work, a Washington, D.C.-based labor rights organization, also circulated the letter nationwide and encouraged concerned consumers to call and Tweet Chipotle. In the resulting public relations blow back, food, social justice, environmental blogs and even an investor blog scrutinized the contradiction between Chipotle’s stated committed to “food with integrity” and its failure to adequately address the human rights crisis faced by the farmworkers. Robert Kenner and Eric Schlosser also reiterated their support for the CIW and their disagreement with Chipotle regarding the company’s response to the Coalition.

All told, activists spoiled Chipotle’s public relations party in over a dozen cities, generated hundreds of tweets (becoming a top Twitter petition) and made over 600 phone calls to Chipotle headquarters. More than 16,000 people emailed Chipotle and added their names to the open letter.

Knowing that emails and phone calls can be ignored all too easily, last Wednesday members of Denver Fair Food along with compaƱeros from Denver’s labor, student and community organizations delivered in person to Chipotle headquarters the open letter with all its signers.

The two Chipotle public relations spin doctors – Chris Arnold and Joe Stupp – who eventually met with us seemed untouched by many signers to the letter insisting to us that, while Chipotle isn’t willing to join in formal agreement, they are “working with the CIW” to find a grower who will pass along the penny-per-pound wage increase to the workers.

But Chipotle is unwilling to guarantee that it will not back out of its penny-per-pound payments, unwilling to share information about its supply chain or verify that it is doing what it claims, unwilling to include the CIW in the development and enforcement of a worker rights code of conduct for its tomato suppliers, and unwilling to maintain an open line of dialog with the CIW about these issues – hardly what could be described as an “working relationship.” It’s Chipotle's equivolent to confusing flirtation over a phone dating service with the bonds of holy matrimony.

Eventually the Chipotle representatives conceded that “we are working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers . . . okay maybe not to their satisfaction but we are working with them.” In one of his most famous speeches, MLK stated: “There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’” To which he reponded: “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors . . . as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity . . . No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’”

Likewise, today the CIW cannot be satisfied with the actions Chipotle has taken in response to the dire crisis faced by farmworkers. Farmworkers deserve a fair wage, and none of us can be satisfied as long as Chipotle refuses to guarantee that it will not back out of its commitment to contributing to one. Farmworkers have a fundamental right to have a voice in the industry of which they are a part, and we will never be satisfied as long as Chipotle denies them the ability to participate in the decisions which impact their lives. Proctecting the rights of farmworkers is not possible without transparency about purchasers’ business practices, and we cannot be satisfied while Chipotle continues to meet us with only secrecy and closed doors. We cannot be satisfied with Chipotle’s response any more than we can ever tolerate the existence of poverty, exploitation and slavery.

When we repeated our position – and the position of thousands of others – that “we view the CIW’s struggle for dignity as a non-negotiable part of the struggle for a sustainable food system,” the chipotle representatives told us that we should “recognize that things are negotiable and that there are no non-negotiables . . . recognizing that there is more than one way to solve a problem, instead of saying: here is the one solution – take it.”

There are certainly multiple solutions to any problem. But is that the same as saying there are no non-negotiables, nothing so fundamental, so valuable that it cannot be sacrificed? Human rights are non-negotiable; human dignity cannot be taken away when it becomes inconvenient. And therefore, the solutions to human rights problems must be embraced fully regardless of the burden. There are not steps which can be left out because they do not mesh with your preferences – not without compromising the solution for which you are working.

The fact is that Chipotle’s “solution” to the human rights crisis in Florida’s fields is not a solution at all. While no one from Chipotle would out right say that farmworker poverty is an acceptable price to pay so that Chipotle can avoid a binding commitment or that a little bit of slavery in its supply chain is preferable to joining in a formal agreement with the CIW, Chipotle’s actions speak loudly that continuing its preferred manner of doing business is more important to it than doing everything possible to ensure that farmworkers’ human rights are respected. Without accountability, transparency or the participation of farmworkers, there is no vehicle through which to make human rights in the fields a reality and all Chipotle’s promises amount to little more than words on paper – pretty maybe, but meaningless.

These are principles far too important to be negotiable – to be sacrificed for the sake of other interests – because they form the very basis upon which farmworkers can actualize their human rights and dignity. If Chipotle proposes an innovative new way for implementing these principles or thinks a particular idea is best suited to its supply chain, then I’m sure the CIW will listen with open ears. There is more than one way to solve a problem. But until then we will never be satisfied.

“No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’”

View the unedited video from our debate with Chipotle’s PR reps:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tweet Chipotle - Give Chipotle your 2 cents (it's more than they're giving farmworkers!)

Another message from American Rights @ Work: now there are even more ways to keep the pressure on Chipotle!

We're getting their attention, but we need to keep the pressure on if we want Chipotle to live up to its "food with integrity" promise.

It's official. You've got Chipotle feeling the heat.

When we told you that Chipotle was standing by while the farmworkers who pick their tomatoes faced abuse and exploitation in the fields, you and over 16,000 others wrote Chipotle CEO Steve Ells, demanding that Chipotle live up to its "food with integrity" promise.

As a major buyer, Chipotle knows they have the power to intervene for the farmworkers.

We need your help to keep the pressure on and let Chipotle know that integrity can't be bought with half-efforts and excuses.

You've already signed our petition but there are a few simple ways you can help us keep the pressure on Chipotle:

*Spread the word, and ask your friends to join you by signing the petition to Chipotle.

*Help flood Chipotle's offices with calls in support of the farmworkers. Just dial 888-899-0017 and follow the easy instructions.

*Share this effort on Facebook and make sure your friends know you're taking a stand for farmworkers.

*Sign our Twitter petition to Chris Arnold, Chipotle's PR rep, urging Chipotle to partner with Florida farmworkers and end the exploitation.

To sign, just click here, and then click the "Sign and Tweet" button. If you've never used Twitter, you can set up a new account and sign the petition at the same time! NOTE: You may have to try a few times to get through if Twitter's web servers are busy.

Your actions now will help Florida farmworkers fight unimaginable abuse and exploitation. The average farmworker puts in a 10 hour day in the scorching Florida sun and must pick two and a half TONS of produce a day to earn $50 - that's only $10,000 per year. Powerful companies like Chipotle need to know they have a responsibility to exert their influence and give a fair deal to the workers who help boost their bottom lines.

That's why we're going to keep turning up the heat until Chipotle does the right thing and lives by their own "food with integrity" pledge. With your help, we can do just that.

We'll keep you posted, and thanks for all that you do.

-Liz, Manny, Elizabeth B., and the American Rights at Work team

P.S. If you've never signed a Twitter petition before, just click here and click the "Sign and Tweet" button. Signing our Twitter petition will make a huge impact because the signatures are public. If enough of us sign, Chipotle will be forced to respond! (NOTE: You may have to try a few times to get through if Twitter's web servers are busy.)

P.P.S. If you're already on Twitter, once you've signed the petition you can also help us spread the word about Chipotle by tweeting about the farmworkers. Make sure to use the hashtag: #Chipotle

Monday, August 3, 2009

Call Chipotle HQ! One burrito, no justice

From our friends at American Rights At Work - a new action against Chipotle:

Chipotle's PR efforts are backfiring...
Call 1-888-899-0017 and add your voice!
Since we asked you a few weeks ago, more than 10,000 activists, signed the open letter to Chipotle, urging the company to stand up for exploited Florida farmworkers. (Sign the open letter here!)

Momentum is building. People around the country have been calling on Denver-based Chipotle to live up to its "food with integrity" promise - and now they've taken their demands to the streets, protesting in front of film screenings sponsored by Chipotle.
Can you back the efforts of these demonstrators by making a quick toll-free call to Chipotle's corporate headquarters?

Calling is easy to do: just follow these three easy steps:

1: Call Chipotle toll-free at:
2: Tell the person who picks up the phone - or leave a message - saying that you want Chipotle to live up to its "food with integrity" promise by standing up for Florida farmworkers.
You can also add:
- The Florida workers who pick Chipotle's tomatoes have one of the worst jobs in America, with sub-poverty wages, back-breaking labor, and unimaginable exploitation.

- It's time for Chipotle to join in a formal agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers - a widely respected farmworker organization and a leader in the field of human rights.

- Partnering with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers will ensure the workers who pick Chipotle's tomatoesare treated fairly and paid a living wage.

3: IMPORTANT: If you get to talk to anyone at Chipotle, tell us how it went - email

Hoping for a bit of good publicity, Chipotle has been sponsoring screenings of Food, Inc., a new documentary about injustices in the food system.

It's a good film - but Chipotle doesn't seem to be getting the film'smessage - they've refused to join in a formal agreement to build better working conditions for the Florida workers who pick their produce and face exploitation and poverty wages - even after the film's director and the film's co-producer demanded Chipotle to do this.

Activists have been demonstrating outside Chipotle's movie screenings to point out the hypocrisy, but Chipotle has tried desperately to stop the message from spreading - even going so far as to remove volunteers from tables they've reserved at the screenings!

Chipotle can't have it both ways. They can't claim to stand for "food with integrity" while ignoring worker exploitation in their supply chain. We're going to keep turning up the heat until Chipotle does the right thing and lives by their own "food with integrity" pledge.

And to do that, we need YOUR help! Please, call 1-888-899-0017 right now!

Thanks you for all that you do.
-The American Rights At Work Team

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Chipotle Grilled!

Chipotle is getting burned by the very scheme it cooked up as what it thought was a great public relations opportunitity - sponsoring free screenings of Food, Inc. - is becoming a PR fiasco.

Food, Inc. director Robert Kenner and co-producer Eric Schlosser speak out and Chipotle has to answer tough questions in Tom Philpott's must-read article on "Chipotle Grilled: Burrito chain’s Food, Inc. sponsorship generates off-screen drama over farm-worker issues."

Schlosser explains that while many of Chipotle's efforts are great, he nonetheless "cares more about human rights than any of those things." He continues: "If Taco Bell, Subway, Burger King, and McDonald’s can reach agreement with the CIW, I don’t see why Chipotle can’t."

Kenner likewise, the article states, "made clear that he disagreed with the company’s position on the CIW" even if he agrees with other things Chipotle is doing. Kenner explains: "I was hopeful that by associating itself with a film that promotes workers’ rights, [Chipotle] might be inclined to sign with the Coalition . . . And now I’m not confident they will.”

Our cameo in this unfolding fiasco is also noted: "Chipotle clearly resents such critical statements at events designed to demonstrate its sustainability cred. At one of its screenings in Denver, Chipotle employees barred people from the Campaign for Fair Food to speak after the screening—overturning an arrangement that had been made with Food, Inc’s public-education campaign. " After investigating the incident, the article decides: "In other words, people wanting to discuss the CIW issue aren’t to be given stage time at the Chipotle-sponsored Food, Inc. screenings."

Our story of Chipotle's eagerness to shut up members of Denver Fair Food has really made a splash on the internet, appearing on the websites of the Organic Cosumers Association, the Coporate Ethics Network, US Indymedia, and others.

Of course Denver wasn't the only city where Chipotle got heat from Fair Food activists while trying to bask in Food, Inc.'s glory. All over the country allies of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers took to the movies to deflate Chipotle's hot air about "food with integrity" with some sharp truths about farm labor in Chipotle's supply chain. See the great photo report from the nationwide "Battle of the Burrito" on the CIW website.

References to this PR fiasco are popping up in unforseen places such as thedailygreen or even more surprising the mainstream investor blog The Motely Fool. And the bed which Chipotle made for itself in which it now must lie can't be feeling any more comfortable.

The lesson for Chipotle to learn from its bungled Food, Inc. PR experiment? The ecorazzi blog has these fitting words: "you can’t have your 1000+ calorie burrito and eat it too."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Why were Fair Food activists kicked out of Food, Inc.?

The Campaign for Fair Food and the new documentary Food, Inc. share – by any objective observation – a common vision and common struggle.

Food, Inc. is an urgent call to create a more just and sustainable food system while the Campaign for Fair Food has a broad network of people working on the ground to do just that.

The Campaign is seeking to raise awareness of the exploitation of farmworkers occurring in the shadows of our corporate-controlled food system – precisely the types of issues that Food, Inc. exposes.

Official Food, Inc. literature listing “10 things you can do to change our food system” encourages people to: “Demand job protections for farm workers and food processors, encouraging fair wages and other protections.” The Campaign not only encourages people to take action but actually provides an avenue to fight for and win fair wages and farmworker rights.

All this would explain why Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation and a co-producer of Food, Inc., has been a strong supporter and active participant in the Campaign, and why, when speaking about the film, he has highlighted the work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers as a prime example of meaningful change. And it explains why Schlosser along with the director of Food, Inc. Robert Kenner (and dozens of other prominent sustainable food activists) signed an open letter stating: “We view the CIW’s struggle for dignity as a non-negotiable part of the struggle for a sustainable food system.”

These facts also explain why members of Denver Fair Food arranged with the local theater and Food, Inc.’s national public education campaign so that we could table and speak briefly with the audience before a film screening.

What it doesn’t explain is why when we arrived at the theater a peppy young woman with a talent for faux-niceness told us that we would not be allowed to speak before the audience or to set up a table. Could it be because we were working to create a more just and sustainable food system, because we were distributing a letter signed by the filmmakers, because we were encouraging people take action to demand respect for farmworker rights?

As strange as it sounds, these are indeed the reasons we were kicked out of the screening of Food, Inc. To make sense of this, you should first know that:

- Chipotle Mexican Grill has long been the main campaign target in our efforts to create a food system that includes farmworker justice – efforts which Chipotle has ignored, avoided and resisted.
- The letter signed by the filmmakers that we were distributing is actually addressed to Chipotle, and lambastes the company for failing to ensure that the tomatoes in its burritos were not picked by exploited workers.
- And the action which we were encouraging was to demand that Chipotle finally work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in order to protect the rights of farmworkers.

As you may have guessed already, the woman who kicked us out worked not for Food, Inc. or the theater but for Chipotle. You see, Chipotle rented the theater that night – one of 32 free screenings of the film that it sponsored around the country – and did not want us pointing out the obvious contradiction between its sponsorship and its disregard for the worth and dignity of the women and men who harvest its tomatoes.

According to Chipotle, it was sponsoring the screenings because “the issues raised by the film Food, Inc. are important and complex, and everything we do at Chipotle strives to address them. Our philosophy of Food With Integrity is an active process of working back along the food chain . . .based on a foundation of not exploiting animals, the environment, or people.”

Chipotle can make such lofty claims only when it excludes farmworkers from its “philosophy.” When the fields from which Chipotle sources its tomatoes are the standard used to judge the integrity of its food, it cannot claim to not play a role in a system of food production based clearly on the exploitation of human beings. It cannot claim to be “working back along the food [supply] chain” while denying the farmworkers who actually work in that supply chain the ability to participate in the decisions about that supply chain which affect their lives. And it cannot claim to be addressing the issues raised by Food, Inc. and yet, when presented with an obvious path to address one such issue by committing to work with the CIW, be unwilling to take it.

Chipotle, despite trying to portray otherwise, is out of sync with the common cause articulated by Food, Inc. As Eric Schlosser, Robert Kenner and the other signers of the open letter to the company explain: “We applaud your goal of sourcing ‘food with integrity’ . . . Yet for us, naturally raised meat – important as it is – does not trump decently treated human beings.” Chipotle is stubbornly holding out against the progress achieved by the Campaign for Fair Food while those who truly want a sustainable food system – such as the makers of the film – are actively pushing the Campaign forward. There is a comic sensibility to seeing Chipotle hitch its brand image to the Food, Inc. bandwagon at same time as the film’s makers accuse it of “public relations damage control” in regards to its response to the CIW. Sadly the amusement is dampened when the reality sinks in that Chipotle’s sponsorship of Food, Inc. is a cynical attempt to exploit our dreams of a just and sustainable world as Chipotle is simultaneously suppressing farmworkers’ dreams of dignified working conditions.

Chipotle founder and CEO Steve Ells says, “I hope that all our customers see this film. The more they know about where their food comes from, the more they will appreciate what we do.” But if Chipotle’s customers knew that their tomatoes came from the exploitation of farmworkers and that Chipotle was not willing to take the necessary steps to do something about it, then they might not be so appreciative. In fact, they might be outraged; they might demand change, get organized and take action.

Chipotle knows this and thus doesn’t really want its customers to know the truth behind their food. That’s why we were kicked out of Food, Inc. And that’s why it was so important for us to be there.

Even though Chipotle ruined our plans to speak and even tried to have the cops called on us, we stuck around til the film got out and passed out copies of the open letter to Chipotle to a very receptive crowd, speaking with well over a hundred people while proudly holding our banner reading: “Food, Inc. – Great Film. Chipotle – Don’t believe the hype.” What’s more, throughout the country allies of the CIW took to the movies with the same simple but compelling message.

Chipotle can certainly try as it will to shut us up but it would do better to heed the words of Victor Hugo: “no army can withstand the strength of an idea whose time has come.” Or to paraphrase the late Fred Hampton, you can kick a revolutionary out of a film screening but you can’t kick out a revolution.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

It's your turn. Take action demanding that Chipotle respect farmworkers rights!

A new action in our long-running campaign against Chipotle - check out this message from the CIW:

Last week, leaders of the food justice movement - including Eric Schlosser and Robert Kenner, producer and director of the hard-hitting new documentary "Food, Inc." - sent a strongly worded letter to Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill demanding that they "work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers as a true partner in the protection of farmworkers' rights."

Now it's your turn to get in on the action. Add your name to the letter to Chipotle CEO Steve Ells demanding real "food with integrity" and an end to the human rights crisis in Florida's tomato fields.

Go to to participate in this email action sponsored by our friends at American Rights at Work.

the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Tell your friends and family to take action too! And spread the demand that those of us in the Denver area have had of Chipotle for a long time.

Dictionary: hy·poc·ri·sy

Denver Fair Food got a shout out from the CIW. Here's the whole reflection from the CIW website in which Chipotle is lambasted and the Denver Fair Food blog is quoted.

Dictionary: hy·poc·ri·sy
1. The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness.

Dictionary: Chi·poc·ri·sy...
6/22/09: The phenomenon known as "Chipocrisy" was in the news this past week, beginning with the June 15th open letter by more than two dozen leading sustainable food activists calling on Chipotle to live up to its claims of "Food with Integrity" and "work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers as a true partner in the protection of farmworkers' rights."

But it didn't stop there. Also last week, the ABC news show "Nightline" did a piece on Chipotle's relationship with Polyface Farms, a model sustainable farm in Virginia that, in the words of owner Joel Salatin, "fully respects and honors the pigness of the pig."

In the same Nightline story, Chipotle CEO Steve Ells professed, "I think it's really important that people know where their food comes from. I mean we spend a lot of time researching the very best sources, so that when people go to Chipotle, they can rest assured they are getting the very best food."
Really? The Nightline piece, while valuable for shedding light on Mr. Salatin's admirable operation, was incomplete, and therefore deeply flawed. By allowing Mr. Ells to effectively direct the spotlight, the story revealed only that part of Chipotle's supply chain that the company wished to showcase, creating the impression of an ethical restaurant company that indeed earns its claim to "Food with Integrity."

If, however, Nightline had only turned that same spotlight on the fields where Chipotle's tomatoes are picked, perhaps it would have found that the "humanness" of the men and women who pick those tomatoes isn't afforded the same honor or respect.
This might be a good moment to quote a relevant passage from last week's impeccably-timed sustainable food movement letter to Mr. Ells:

"... (F)or us, naturally raised meat – important as it is – does not trump decently treated human beings... Your company has shown admirable leadership in working with – and incubating – meat suppliers willing to meet your higher standards. But your failure to do that same hard work in the Florida tomato industry – together with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) – threatens to render your announcement an empty gesture aimed more at public relations damage control than an effort to make real change."

Chipotle's failure to live up to the virtues it professes to hold dear was not lost, however, on one Denver-based blogger last week. Writing on the Denver Fair Food blog, "Robert" noted that, on its corporate website, Chipotle strongly recommends that its customers read Eric Schlosser's hard-hitting analysis of the fast-food industry's ills, "Fast Food Nation". The contradiction was too much to stomach for the Fair Food blogger, who undoes Chipotle's claims to sustainability using a series of quotes by none other than Mr. Schlosser himself. His conclusion is withering, and it shall be our conclusion here as well:

"... It’s abundantly obvious. Quoting Eric again: 'the exploitation of farm workers should not be tolerated in Florida. It should not be tolerated anywhere in the United States. There are many social problems that are extremely difficult to solve. This is not one of them.' Plain and simple, the solution is for Chipotle to work in partnership with the CIW. That’s been Eric’s demand of fast-food companies for a long time and that’s his demand explicitly of Chipotle today.

"It’s funny really, Chipotle isn’t listening to the guy that Chipotle recommends everyone listen to. Chipotle’s 'further reading' is demanding that Chipotle go further, and yet Chipotle refuses to take its own advice. This is a phenomenon that’s become so common place we have a name for it: Chipocrisy.

"That’s the thing about further reading – sometimes you end up eating your words."