Getting 'Em Where it Hurts
Weekly Planet (Tampa, FL)
BY ROCHELLE RENFORD
February 20, 2001
For anybody who thinks that marching around a Taco Bell and demanding
better wages for tomato pickers is a waste of time, the Coalition of
Immokalee Workers has news: You're wrong.
Nearly 10 months after the Boycott the Bell campaign began, the
company that says it doesn't get involved in the labor issues of its
suppliers is beginning to have a change of heart. Last April, the
Coalition began boycotting Taco Bell restaurants, which purchase a
large amount of tomatoes from Immokolee-based Six L's Packing Co. The
firm employs pickers for less than a living wage and refuses to meet
with the workers to discuss issues like pay and working conditions.
The Coalition hoped that the taco giant would intervene on its behalf
and force Six L's to behave more responsibly. Workers, students and
labor activists targeted Taco Bells across the country for
demonstrations and encouraged college students with Taco Bell on
their campuses to appeal to school administrators to shut them down.
Much as Nike did 10 years ago, the restaurant kept silent, probably
hoping the protestors would just go away.
But the boycott kept growing, aligning with other groups such as
United Students Against Sweatshops and gaining attention by sending
workers to speak to student and community groups.
Then the heavy hitters came on board. Trillium Asset Management is a
socially responsible investment group that handles more than $600-
million in client funds. Not only does the company invest in
corporations that are friendly to the environment and to workers,
they create consequences for companies that are not.
"We use our clients' clout as investors to hold companies
accountable," says Simon Billenness, a senior analyst at Trillium.
Last November, Trillium sent a letter to Taco Bell's parent company,
Tricon, asking them to do several things: open a dialogue with the
growers, the tomato pickers and investors; pay a fractionally higher
price for tomatoes with the total increase passed on to the tomato
workers in the form of higher wages; and draft a code of conduct for
Tricon's tomato suppliers that includes provisions requiring safe and
healthy work conditions, the payment of a sustainable living wage and
respect for the right to organize.
They got no response from Tricon.
Then Trillium joined with the Center for Reflection, Education and
Action and the United Church of Christ Pension Board and filed a
shareholders resolution citing their concerns in terms the company
could understand. As part owners of Tricon, they expressed their
concern that the companies' target market of 18-to-24-year-olds were
the most likely to join in the boycott and that shareholders'
earnings would be affected as a result.
"We fear that failure to address this issue puts at risk not only
Tricon's brands and good reputation but also our company's future
sales and profitability," the resolution stated. This moved Tricon
into action. After all, these weren't just farmworkers; these were
big stockholders. In exchange for Trillium taking their resolution
off the table, Tricon agreed to work with them to create a code of
conduct for its suppliers that would cover issues like living wages
and the pickers' right to sit down with the growers to discuss
working conditions. Although it will still take some time before the
code of conduct is completed and enforced, the prospects look good,
said Billenness: "We think this is very encouraging. We think Tricon
is acting in good faith."
According to Jonathan Blum, a public relations officer at Tricon, the
company has been in contact with Six L's by letter and phone, and
they expect the dialogue to continue.
That doesn't mean that the matter is resolved or that the Coalition
will halt the boycott anytime soon. On Feb. 28, the Coalition kicks
off the nationwide Taco Bell Truth Tour at USF in Tampa. From there,
they'll hit the road to tell as many consumers as possible why they
should stay away from Taco Bell. The tour will arrive at Taco Bell's
corporate headquarters in Irvine, Calif., for a demonstration on
"We're happy to see Taco Bell move off the untenable position that
they will in no way get involved in the labor disputes of their
suppliers," says Greg Asbed of the Coalition. "But we've always said
that when there's concrete, measurable progress made in the areas of
wages, the right to organize and other working conditions for the
farmworkers who pick Taco Bell's tomatoes, then and only then, will
we be happy to sit down with Taco Bell and call the boycott off."
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers' kickoff of their nationwide Taco
Bell Truth Tour takes place Feb. 28 at the University Lecture Hall on
the USF-Tampa campus. The event begins at 6 p.m. with a dinner with
farmworkers (bring a meal). There will be a rally 7-8:30 p.m. with
music, culture and a short ecumenical service. At 8:30 there will be
a candlelight march to the Taco Bell on 56th Street and Fowler Avenue.
For more information regarding the Taco Bell boycott, check out the
CIW web site at www.ciw-online.org, or contact The Coalition
of Immokalee Workers at 941-821-5481 or 941-285-2368.
The Taco Bell Truth Tour starts on May 1 and will make it's way across the
Nation to Taco Bell Global Corporate Headquarters in Irvine Ca on March 11.
Join the CIW, farmworkers and thousands of others to march on Taco Bell
Headquarters to demand a living wage for farmworkers.
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