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.

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