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.