Letter to the Editor: Reconsider contract with Wendy’s

Hand holding penDear UIC administration and Wendy’s,

As a graduate student at UIC and a food justice advocate, I am writing to express my disappointment with Wendy’s.

Located in Student Center East, Wendy’s is a fast food corporation many of us at UIC know all too well. What Wendy’s doesn’t want students to know is that they’re the only major fast food corporation that has refused to join the groundbreaking program for social responsibility in the U.S. produce industry: the Fair Food Program.

The Fair Food Program is a sustainable model based on a partnership between the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Florida tomato growers, and participating corporate buyers.  It ensures higher wages and better working conditions for tomato pickers in Florida.

The Fair Food Program was recently hailed in a White House report concerning efforts to combat human trafficking as “one of the most successful and innovative programs” in the fight against modern-day slavery.  Furthermore, the U.N. Working Group on Business and Human Rights sent observers to Immokalee, reporting that the Fair Food Program “innovatively addresses core worker concerns” through an “independent and robust enforcement mechanism.” Most recently, Walmart, the biggest retailer in the world, has joined the Fair Food Program.  In doing so, they committed to buy their tomatoes exclusively from farms that are in compliance with the Fair Food Program.

Of the five largest fast food corporations in the country — McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King, Taco Bell and Wendy’s — Wendy’s is the only one not participating in the Fair Food Program. When Dave Thomas founded Wendy’s, he was guided by numerous values to run his business, some of which include “do the right thing” and “treat everyone with respect.”  Where is the merit in those principles if they do not ensure rights and respect for the farmworkers who pick the tomatoes in those old fashioned hamburgers?

The UIC administration is in a powerful position to reconsider their contract with the Wendy’s on campus. As students, we have the right to demand that our universities serve fair food and promote ethical business practices.  I chose UIC for its visionary commitment to academia and the greater community.  As a premier research university, UIC has the opportunity to show the rest of the community that the university is committed to the just treatment of all workers in the food supply chain.

Just like a decade ago during the Taco Bell days, students from across the nation will be calling on their campuses and universities to “Boot the Braids” until Wendy’s joins the Fair Food Program.  If Wendy’s continues to skirt responsibility and uphold “old fashioned” values, it’s time for universities such as UIC to discontinue their contract with Wendy’s until they commit to the Fair Food Program and join the 12 other corporations in ensuring human rights in their supply chains.

Wendy’s, now is the time to step up to the fair food plate and establish a partnership with the farmworkers that provides quality and wholesome tomatoes on your menu.  Don’t put this off any longer. Your old-fashioned hamburgers are leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

– Sylvia Gonzalez

• Sylvia Gonzalez is a graduate student in public health. Reach her at sgonza43@uic.edu


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