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Tomato workers not loving McDonald's.

After declaring victory last year on Taco Bell for the treatment of Florida tomato pickers who supply the food chain, the Alliance for Fair Food, in association with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, are now going after McDonald's, the biggest fast food chain in North America.

"It is our hope that as McDonald's sees the strong and growing support for fair food from its customers, that it will heed our call to address human rights abuses in the company's tomato supply chain," said Rev. Noelle Damico, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s associate for its Fair Food campaign. The Board of Pensions of PC(USA) and the Presbyterian Foundation are institutional shareholders in McDonald's Corporation, and the church is a founding member of the AFF.

After a four-year boycott of Taco Bell, the chain's parent company, Yum! Brands, decided to work with the CIW and raise workers' wages, agreeing to pay a penny more per pound for its tomatoes and insuring the increase goes directly to the farm workers (effectively nearly doubling their wages). The March 2005 agreement also established the first code of conduct for Florida agricultural suppliers that guarantees a meaningful role for farm workers in the protection of their own rights.

Now, workers want the same arrangement with McDonald's, along with a chain in which it holds a controlling share, Chipotle Mexican Grill. Chipotle is already committed to "food with integrity" which ensures humane treatment for the animals used by the chain, along with an increasing use of organic ingredients. AFF is asking Chipotle to transfer this kind of thinking to the conditions its tomato pickers currently endure.

Farm workers picking for McDonald's suppliers currently earn 40-45 cents US for every 14.5-kilo bucket of tomatoes they harvest, a wage that has remained stagnant for more than 25 years. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates the average wage is $7,500 per annum. Taco Bell purchases 10 million pounds of Florida tomatoes each year. The new agreement will cost the chain an additional $100,000. McDonald's purchases one and a half per cent of Florida's tomato crop.

"If McDonald's continues to ignore the human rights abuses in its tomato supply chain and turns a deaf ear to its customers' insistence that the company work with the CIW, a boycott is certainly one possibility" Damico told the Record. "We move forward with eyes open, prepared to witness to God's intention for justice in our food system in peaceful, rigorous ways."--AM with files from Presbyterian News Service, the Alliance for Fair Food and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers
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Author:MacLachlan, Amy
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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