Sunday, February 14, 2010

Shrinking from the Challenge?... Food writers pick up on "Chipotle Challenge"; meanwhile, silence from Ells...

In December 2009, Food and Society Fellow Sean Sellers challenged Steve Ells (pictured left), the CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill, to a public debate on the merits of the Campaign for Fair Food. The challenge stemmed from Chipotle's ongoing refusal to partner with the CIW to address labor conditions in its tomato supply chain, and in response to misinformation about the CIW spread by Ells in recent high-profile speaking engagements.

Since then -- though Ells has yet to answer the call -- the Chipotle Challenge has certainly caught the attention of national food writers who have seized upon the jarring contradiction at the heart of Chipotle's billion-dollar brand.

In an excellent feature-length article ("One Company Thinks They've Created Fast Food with a Conscience -- Are They Right?," 2/9/10), Tara Lohan of AlterNet writes:

"'Chipotle had no idea it was buying from one of the growers tainted by the most recent slavery prosecution until the CIW told them about it,' said Sellers. 'They would have known much earlier if they had a real working relationship with the CIW.'

... Whether Chipotle will be willing to team up with CIW in an effort to improve labor conditions is yet to be seen. Sellers has invited Ells to a public debate about the issue, but Ells has yet to take him up on the offer. Still, it's not too late for Ells to be consistent about changing the fast-food paradigm."
And a month earlier, the food blog Simple, Good and Tasty posed a series of hard-hitting questions for Ells ("Chipotle Doesn't Support Florida Tomato Pickers? Say it ain't so, Steve," 1/14/10):

"So, my first question to Steve Ells would simply be, why?

Question #2 would be this: Are you willing to tarnish the reputation of your company over this seemingly no-brainer issue? How could you possibly object to doing everything you can to improve the plight of poor and powerless farmworkers in Florida’s tomato fields? (That would be question #3.)

And, finally, do you know how much you are hurting the people who care about you, who have held you in such high esteem, who depend on you to provide inexpensive, convenient, delicious, nutritious and sustainably sourced food that appeals to practically everyone?

Admit you have a problem, Steve. That’s the first step. Now solve it. Pledge your full and unconditional support to CIW and Florida’s tomato pickers. Do it for them. Do it for your customers. Do it for your investors. Do it for your friends and family. Do it, because, as you say on your website, you can always "do better." Prove it. Thank you."
Will Ells accept the Chipotle Challenge? The clock is still ticking.

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