Latest Chipotle take on company's role in Fair Food Movement so delusional its deconstruction requires a serial post to do it justice...
Over the years, we have seen more than our share of bizarre, self-serving, and outrageously false defenses put out there by our friends in the corporate food world in response to the Campaign for Fair Food, but the latest product from the Chipotle public relations department truly takes the cake. It seems that the stories they told the world back in 2009 - when Chipotle claimed credit for East Coast Tomato Packers' decision to become the first major tomato grower to participate in the Fair Food Program - have now been spun so long and so hard that they have become the stuff of legend. And as with all good tall tales, their heroic exploits ask us to suspend our disbelief. Today, Paul Bunyan-like, Chipotle CEO Steve Ells stands 50 feet tall, and he and his giant blue ox have single-handedly overcome the resistance of the Florida tomato growers and ended farm labor exploitation once and for all.
OK, so maybe Ells isn't 50 feet tall, and there is no blue ox, but none of that has kept Chipotle from telling its story of social responsibility, vision, and valor. A story made all the more amazing by the fact that Chipotle is smaller, by far, than all those food companies that have actually signed Fair Food Agreements, with revenues about 1/10th those of McDonald's, 1/8th those of Subway, 1/4th those of Trader Joe's. Indeed, the only thing epic about the past two years has been Chipotle's failure to deliver on its claim to be able to do better for farmworkers in its supply chain than the CIW's Fair Food Program can.
But enough about reality. Let's get back to Chipotle's PR world. The company's latest communication, sent to us by a consumer who wrote to Chipotle to inquire as to why the company has refused to sign a Fair Food Agreement, is so full of misinformation that we can't debunk it in just one post. Instead, over the next couple of weeks, interspersed with coverage of the 2012 Northeast Tour, we are going to bring you, countdown style, the "Top Ten List of Falsehoods, Fibs, and Fabrications in Chipotle's Answer to a Customer's Email about the Campaign for Fair Food".
Today, we begin with Chipotle's response in its entirety, followed by #10 in the Top Ten list. We hope you enjoy the ride:
Thanks for writing to us. I'm sorry for some of the confusion surrounding the CIW Fair Food Agreement. Food With Integrity is at the heart of who we are. We apply this philosophy to everything we do and to all aspects of our business. We've built our business on doing what we believe is right. We have a decade-long track record of working to improve the nation's food supply by choosing like-minded suppliers who share our belief in raising animals and growing vegetables in ways that demonstrate respect for people, animals and the environment. When we can't find such arrangements, we use our purchasing power to influence change among those who are willing to work with us.
You may be interested to hear that Chipotle has supported the CIW. We definitely do not support abuse of tomato pickers and we only purchase our tomatoes from growers who have signed on with the CIW. We support their goal of making life better for the workers in Immokalee county Florida. We agreed to their request to pay a penny a pound to the tomato pickers, and we were instrumental in getting the Florida Tomato Grower's Exchange (FTGE) to make sure that this money actually went to the workers. Before Chipotle got involved, the CIW had not been able to get this money to the workers, because the FTGE would not allow it. In fact, in 2009, we successfully negotiated a pact with East Coast Farms, one of Florida's largest and most reputable tomato growers, in order to pay a penny a pound more for the tomatoes we buy. This additional money has been paid directly to the workers who pick our tomatoes. Here are some links on the subject, including one from NPR, from when this first happened:
This progress with East Coast Farms came after months of working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Their campaign to improve wages and working conditions for farm workers who pick tomatoes in Florida prompted an organized effort by the Florida tomato industry to block fulfillment of similar agreements between the CIW and other large tomato buyers. By working directly with the grower instead, we found an alternative that allows us to have an immediate and positive impact on the lives of people who pick tomatoes for us.
This deal in turn will allow other companies to participate in helping the workers where they were stonewalled before. We have the same goal as the CIW—improved wages and conditions for the workers—but there are multiple ways to get there. In this case, for the worker's sake, it was more effective to use a more direct route.
As I mentioned, we are paying the extra penny per pound as we promised. We also allow third-party audits as well as open our supply chain to scrutiny. We are also purchasing our tomatoes from growers who have signed on with the CIW. However, the CIW wants us to sign a contract that would let the CIW control Chipotle's decisions regarding food in the future. We feel we do not need to sign a contract to do the right thing. We do the right thing because that is the kind of company we are and we want to retain the freedom to make those types of decisions based on the workers' rights, while still having the ability to take in consideration what we feel is best for the land, the animals and the farmers.
We will continue in our quest to provide Food With Integrity, always looking for suppliers who share our belief in producing food in ways that demonstrates respect for workers, animals, and the environment. We will also continue to use our purchasing power to push for change when we cannot find suitable alternatives. While we know we are not perfect we hope that this will help for now as we continue to provide Food With Integrity and do the right thing in the future."And now, drum roll please... Number 10 in the the Top Ten List of Falsehoods, Fibs, and Fabrications in Chipotle's Answer to a Customer's Email about the Campaign for Fair Food:
#10. "We agreed to their request to pay a penny a pound to the tomato pickers... As I mentioned, we are paying the extra penny per pound as we promised."
Fact: We start you off with something of a two-fer. First, Chipotle didn't agree to do anything, they just started doing something on their own that they thought was the same as the companies in the Fair Food Program were doing. But, worse yet, because they tried to go it alone, they were paying the wrong amount (and, conveniently, much less than the other companies in the Program). Yes, while telling the public they were paying the same Fair Food Premium as the companies that had signed Fair Food Agreements, Chipotle was in fact paying less. Oops!
#9: "However, the CIW wants us to sign a contract that would let the CIW control Chipotle's decisions regarding food in the future."
Fact: No, we don't.
Our only concern is the human rights of the workers who pick Chipotle's Florida tomatoes. To ensure that Chipotle uses its purchasing power to advance and protect those rights, we want Chipotle to sign a Fair Food Agreement. Here are a few of the many reasons why signing a Fair Food Agreement cannot be described as letting "the CIW control Chipotle's decisions regarding food in the future":
•Fair Food Agreements don't deal with all food purchases, they deal only with tomatoes;
•Fair Food Agreements don't even deal with all tomato purchases, they only deal with Florida tomatoes;
•The only requirement about purchasing contained in the Fair Food Agreements is that companies that sign must purchase their Florida tomatoes only from growers who are participating in the Fair Food Program, which today is over 90% of all Florida tomato growers. This allows for a pretty broad selection of growers among whom to choose. (Of course, this requirement means that, if a participating grower is found in violation of the Fair Food Code of Conduct and refuses to correct the violation or violations, that grower is suspended from the Program and participating buyers would have to stop purchasing his or her tomatoes. That is what gives the Fair Food Program teeth, keeping it from being just another code of conduct that companies are free to ignore at their convenience, and that may be what is giving Chipotle pause.)
• But if, in the unlikely event there are no Florida tomato growers able or willing to meet the Fair Food standards, participating buyers are permitted to purchase tomatoes from any and all growers until there are.
So, in summary, the agreements only cover Florida tomatoes, not "food". And as long as there are any Florida tomato growers complying with the Fair Food Code of Conduct (which you can find here), Chipotle is free to choose among them. And if there aren't any growers complying with the Fair Food Code of Conduct, Chipotle is free to choose among all Florida tomato growers. The only real restriction on Chipotle's choice of Florida tomato growers is if one of its current suppliers -- all of whom, according to Chipotle, are participating growers -- were to violate the Fair Food standards and refuse to correct the violations. In that case, the Fair Food Agreement would require that Chipotle shift its purchases away from that supplier. And that is the point of the Program: Market benefits for those growers who meet higher standards and market consequences for those who don't.
One final thought: Just in case you're thinking that the Fair Food standards might be unrealistic or overly ambitious, it is helpful to remember that ten other food industry leaders -- among them, four of Chipotle's colleagues in the fast food industry -- find it perfectly reasonable, and feasible, to purchase only from farms participating in the Fair Food Program. Yet it's Chipotle -- the ethical food leader, the company that invented the marketing slogan "Food with Integrity" -- that is shrinking from that same commitment.
#8: "We feel we do not need to sign a contract to do the right thing. We do the right thing because that is the kind of company we are..."
|"Perhaps Chipotle could make this sort of argument regarding its record on environmental issues, but that's not the case for workers' rights, where its track record is nowhere near the same. |
For the record, human rights abuses have been occurring in their tomato supply chain since they began as a company, and at no point did they feel that they needed to sign a contract to do anything about it.
Further, on a practical level, workers themselves need to be involved in the doing of the "right thing" simply because they are the ones on the ground who can tell you when the right thing is not being done, and who have to be the ones to define what the "right thing" is. Only barely under the surface of this statement is an ugly condescension, a mentality that says, "We don't need to include you when we go about making your life better. We know what's best for you."
I also want to quote Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser regarding Chipotle's refusal to work with the CIW: 'Claiming you support farm-worker rights but refusing to work with CIW is like someone in the ’60s saying they support civil rights but they won’t work with Martin Luther King, Jr. or the NAACP'.”
Despite the chilly reception, the marchers pressed on with their message that nothing can be done for workers that is done without workers, because no matter how ethical and pure of intention Chipotle believes itself to be, sooner or later, company executives have got to to wrap their minds around this simple truth: Farmworkers in Immokalee are building a new world -- in partnership with growers and willing retail food corporations -- in the fields of Florida, where farmworkers' rights are respected and workers have a real voice in the industry. The very foundation of that new world is the recognition of farmworkers as a vital, and equal, part of the industry as a whole, every bit as essential as Joel Salatin and Steve Ells themselves to Chipotle's success.
Because without farmworkers, there is no food, with or without integrity.
Oh, and, one more thing...It seems that consistency is not a value that Chipotle holds dear. While the company clearly expects the world to trust it to do the right thing voluntarily, CEO Steve Ells doesn't seem to think others in the industry should be allowed to benefit from that same approach. As it turns out, Chipotle is quite vociferous in its insistence that voluntary compliance with the FDA's guidelines on antibiotics use in animals is not sufficient due to producers' entrenched practices and interests. From a press release on the company's website:
Chipotle Mexican Grill Responds to FDA's Voluntary Plan to Reduce Antibiotic Use in Farm Animals
"There are gaps in the program, particularly that it continues to allow antibiotic use for prevention of disease."DENVER, Apr 16, 2012 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG) applauds the Food and Drug Administration's attention to the overuse of antibiotics in livestock farming, but urges the agency and the industrial animal agriculture sector to do more. While Chipotle sees FDA's voluntary plan as a good first step, the company believes more intervention is needed to stop the abuse of antibiotics in farming...
... "We started serving meat from animals raised in a humane way and without the use of antibiotics because we believe animals should be raised in ways that emphasize good care rather than chemicals," Ells said. "These voluntary guidelines seem unlikely to cause producers to change the practices that necessitate dependence on drugs in the first place. It's an important first step, but stronger action will be needed to bring about meaningful change in an industry where their practices are so well entrenched." read more
Hmmm... that's pretty solid logic. To paraphrase Mr. Ells, we can't depend on voluntary compliance with higher standards because food industry companies could have met those higher standards at any time in the past, but few have chosen to do so.
And that is exactly why, in the Fair Food Program, we insist on having binding contracts with our partners, because you just can't count on companies to do the right thing on their own when they haven't in the past!
#7: "We also allow third-party audits as well as open our supply chain to scrutiny."
|"That commitment -- combining regular field and farm office audits with a rigorous complaint investigation and resolution process, and backed by the CIW's on-the-farm, on-the-clock education around the code's new labor standards for tens of thousands of tomato harvesters across the state -- sets the Fair Food Program apart in the world of social responsibility, where corporate codes of conduct have proliferated but are rarely monitored and even more rarely enforced."|
Without that commitment, the Fair Food Program would have no teeth. It would be just another set of hopeful standards on paper, without market consequences to make them real.
#6: "You may be interested to hear that Chipotle has supported the CIW."
|"a. To aid the cause, policy, or interests of;|
b. To argue in favor of; advocate;...
... to give approval to (a cause, principle, etc.), to subscribe to;"
|“Of course I’m not in favor of slavery! But signing an agreement [with the CIW] does not actually change those conditions for farmworkers. 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.” read more|
|The 10 biggest fast food chains in the United States in 2010 (source):|
1. * Subway - 23,336 U.S. Locations
2. * McDonald's - 14,000 U.S. Locations
3. Starbucks - 11,000 U.S. Locations
4. *Pizza Hut - 7,566 U.S. Locations
5. * Burger King - 7,233 U.S. Locations
6. Dunkin' Donuts - 6,500 U.S. Locations
7. Wendy's - 5,877 U.S. Locations.
8. * Taco Bell - 5,604 U.S. Locations
9. *Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) - 5,162 U.S. Locations
10. Domino's Pizza - 4,927 U.S. Locations
* Companies committed to purchase from growers willing to participate in the Fair Food Program
|Chipotle stores at end of 2010 (source):|
|"If you believe its marketing hype, you’d think Chipotle does everything it can to source its ingredients ethically. But you just have to unwrap the burrito a little bit to realize the way Chipotle purchases the tomatoes for its salsa undercuts the advances in working conditions Florida farmworkers have fought to win.|
Chipotle is refusing to sign the Fair Food Agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group of farmworkers who’ve successfully convinced major corporations like Burger King and Subway to participate in a program that helps ensure that tomato pickers are treated well and paid fairly for their work.
Send a message to Chipotle’s CEO Steve Ells, calling for him to commit to real “food with integrity” by signing the Fair Food Agreement.
And it actually gets worse. Chipotle is misleading its customers by trumpeting the work of the CIW on its website. In reality, Chipotle broke off talks with the CIW, opting instead to go it alone — no partnership, no verification, no commitment for the long term. By refusing to partner with the CIW, Chipotle is undercutting the life-changing work the CIW has done to protect farmworkers from the often-brutal conditions workers face at farms not participating in the Fair Food Program.
Since organizing in the mid-90s, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has successfully pressured large corporations like Aramak, Compass Group, and Whole Foods to sign its Fair Food Agreement, guaranteeing a fair wage and worker protections to the men and women who pick tomatoes across Florida. And just this past February, SumOfUs.org members helped convince Trader Joe’s to sign the Fair Food Agreement!
This weekend, CIW is ramping up the pressure on Chipotle by sponsoring a weekend of action where people all over the US will be pressuring Chipotle to sign the Fair Food Agreement. Let’s use our power as consumers — the people that, frankly, CEOs care most about — and demand that Chipotle sign on to the Fair Food Agreement.
Join the movement for fair food by sending a message to Chipotle’s CEO, urging him to sign the Fair Food Agreement now."
|"... Recall that CIW's work began targeting growers in Florida, which is where the issues were. They switched gears and began targeting buyers so buyers could apply economic pressure on growers to make the growers change their practices. All of this is well reported in Barry Estabrook's book, Tomatoland, or, to some extent, at the link below.|
That effort has worked, and now more than 90% of tomatoes grown in Florida are grown under CIW's program. This is an extraordinary accomplishment given how well entrenched practices are in the large scale ag sector, and how change averse the industry is. In short, CIW won. The industry has turned. Now, anyone who wants to can participate in their program, and we have chosen to do that working only with growers who have signed on to their program.
In terms of having a contract with them directly, we simply don't believe that contracts are necessary to do the right thing..."
|"As a loyal Chipotle consumer and avid supporter of Chipotle's business practices, I am saddened to find myself forced to boycott your product until Chipotle reaches a positive resolution to the CIW's concerns. |
I have spoken this morning with Communications Director Mr. Chris Arnold, and left a message in the purchasing department. I sincerely appreciate Mr. Arnold taking the time to speak with me and explain Chipotle's position regarding the Fair Foods Agreement. In a letter this morning Mr. Arnold assures me that Chipotle is meeting the industry standard for Fair Pay and transparency in Florida, but does not see the necessity in signing the agreement. According to Mr. Arnold, it is possible to "do the right thing" without the necessity of a contract. While I agree with Chipotle's position, it unfortunately puts the organization on the opposite side of industry standards. If organizations such as McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Trader Joe's are willing to allow a third party to monitor and certify the process, certainly Chipotle would be willing?
As an early adopter of Chipotle, I have always been heartened by your business practices and shared my positive impression of your organization. As a founding member of the Farm Team last year, I helped spread the message of Food With Integrity to my friends, family, and colleagues. I was shocked, embarrassed, and ashamed at a recent family gathering to find my assertions about the Integrity of your organization called into question over the current situation with the CIW. I have come to expect Chipotle to be on the forefront of ethical business practices.
This morning I took the time to speak with both representatives at Chipotle and with the CIW. I am disappointed by what I learned. If indeed, Chipotle meets and exceeds the industry standards, and is willing to allow full transparency, what is the logic of refusing to sign a commitment to those practices? I am assured that the process of signing the Fair Foods Agreement is swift, and can be accomplished in a matter of hours. What's more, the CIW has committed to communicating the agreement through its many channels once signed. All that is necessary is a single phone call.
I understand, that I am only a single consumer and that my refraining from purchasing your product may not impact the business. I urge you to make a decision based on what is Right and Best, not on the potential loss of income.
I look forward to hearing from your office soon. Perhaps, with swift action, my daughter and I can have a Chipotle Burrito for dinner this evening."
|"... Similar to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, Chipotle has built a reputation for providing food with integrity. It’s amazing that they are willing to put that reputation on the line by resisting collaboration with CIW. Chipotle claims that they are instituting all of the conditions of the code of conduct; they just don’t want to sign the agreement with CIW. Yet without allowing for third-party verification, and given Chipotle’s history of questionable statements about its actions in support of farmworkers, Chipotle’s claims simply don’t have credence." read more|
|"'What's important to understand about the nature of this issue,' he starts, 'is that when the CIW started their program in the mid-1990's, they were originally targeting growers. Then they switched gears, targeting large-scale buyers like Chipotle, or McDonald's, or Taco Bell... to get the buyers to put economic pressure on the growers so the growers would change their practices.|
'Now more than 90% of all the tomatoes grown in Florida are grown under CIW's program; so in effect, they won. Anyone who wants to participate in their program can, and we've been doing that since 2009. We only work with growers who have signed on with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. We're working directly with growers rather than through an agreement with CIW. The result is the same in terms of benefits to the workers...'" read more