No Thanks, Chipotle!

The University of Colorado Student Union (UCSU) recently turned down an offer for free lunch from the popular grill in support of farmworkers. Why? To date, Chipotle Corporation has refused to take responsibility for human rights abuses that occur in the fields that provide the restaurant’s tomatoes.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has been requesting the support of Chipotle Corporation in addressing the sub-poverty wages of pickers for over a year. They, along with the Boulder network of the national Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA) and allies in Denver are now asking Denver-based Chipotle Corporation to live up to its slogan of “Food with Integrity.”

According to a piece submitted by UCSU, Boulder students gathered 930 signatures on the CIW’s petition urging fast food industry chains to end slavery in American fields.

This is the letter they submitted to Chipotle:

Monday, April 28, 2008

Dear Chipotle Corporation,

On behalf of the University of Colorado Student Union Executive Staff, we would like to thank you for your offer of free Chipotle burritos, but we cannot accept it. Our rejection of this offer is meant as a gesture of support for CU’s chapter of the Student Farmworker Alliance and for the workers in Florida who harvest tomatoes for Chipotle and other chains. Recently, students from CU Boulder obtained 930 signatures on a petition that urges fast food industry chains to join the Coalition of Immokalee workers in its efforts to “establish and enforce a human rights-based code of conduct” for tomato pickers. The provisions of the petition and our reasons for rejecting Chipotle’s offer are explained in more detail below.

Chipotle Mexican Grill has continually been presented with the opportunity to foster real social responsibility in its tomato supply chain by working with an award-winning human rights farmworker organization, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Unfortunately, the many attempts of the CIW, the Student/Farmworker Alliance, and the Denver Fair Food Committee to reach out to Chipotle have been repeatedly ignored.

As Chipotle has been informed many times: today, there is a human rights crisis in Florida’s fields-the same fields that for many years have supplied Chipotle with tomatoes for its tacos and burritos. Tomato pickers face deplorable conditions every day:

  • Sub-poverty wages: farmworkers earn, on average, only $10,000/year;
  • No raise in nearly 30 years: tomato pickers are paid virtually the same per bucket piece rate (about 45 cents per 32 lb. bucket) today as they were in 1978. At today’s rate, workers have to pick nearly 2 1/2 TONS of tomatoes just to earn minimum wage for a typical 10-hr day;
  • Denial of fundamental labor rights: Farmworkers in Florida have no right to overtime pay, even when working 60-70 hour weeks, and no right to organize or bargain collectively.

Even worse, modern-day slavery rings, in which workers are held against their will and forced to work through violence and threats of violence, have been found in the fields. The CIW has assisted the Department of Justice in uncovering, investigating, and successfully prosecuting 5 such cases-involving more than 1,000 workers-since 1997.

Chipotle’s purchasing practice of demanding the cheapest tomatoes without regard for the rights of the workers who harvest those tomatoes may help keep the company’s costs down. But the costs for farmworkers are extremely high: continued poverty and exploitation.

Chipotle has a reputation as a leader in advancing socially responsible purchasing practices within the fast-food industry. Chipotle’s indifference to the deplorable conditions faced by workers in its tomato supply chain, however, casts the sincerity of its “Food With Integrity” philosophy into serious doubt. We are well aware that Chipotle claims to no longer be purchasing tomatoes from Florida while it ‘investigates’ the issue.

That is not an acceptable response to the dire situation at hand. Chipotle should seize the opportunity and responsibility to rectify the injustices lived by farmworkers everyday, not run away from them.

We are disappointed that Chipotle has refused to even discuss this issue with the CIW, much less take the necessary steps to ensure farmworkers receive fair wages and human rights. We also feel disrespected by Chipotle’s disregard for the efforts our fellow students have taken to build bridges between the CIW and Chipotle. Since we value our relationships with our peers in the Student/Farmworker Alliance and those who do respectable work picking the tomatoes we eat, we cannot accept your offer of free burritos. Instead we encourage Chipotle to agree to:

  • Pay a penny more per pound for the tomatoes that Chipotle purchases and ensure that this increase is passed along to tomato pickers in the form of increased wages; and
  • Work with the CIW to implement an enforceable code of conduct to ensure fair and safe working conditions for farmworkers in Chipotle’s tomato supply chain.

Thank you,
The UCSU Executive Staff

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2 responses to “No Thanks, Chipotle!

  1. I routinely cook with tomatoes, mostly bought from organic food stores, some grown in my own garden. Is there a way to know the vegetables I’ve purchased are actually helping support the pickers?

  2. I’d like to copy this Chipotle letter in full on my blog, including, of course, a link to your site. I want to make sure my AZ readers know about this. May I?
    Also, please see my “Message to AZ Bloggers,” under “Current Action Alerts,” right column. We have a lot in common, and I’ll be linking to you now.
    If you are not aware of Interfaith Worker Justice, which is HQd in Chicago and which has a branch in AZ, you can find out more by Googling it.
    Good work, and keep it up.
    Pico

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