6 December 2007
Anti-Slavery International Award winners the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) launched its campaign against fast-food giant Burger King, with a march on its headquarters to protest the tolerance of labour exploitation by its suppliers.
On 30 November, more than 1,500 farm workers and allies of the CIW, including labour activists, religious leaders and students, accompanied by music and puppetry, took to the streets of Miami on a nine-mile march to the Burger King headquarters in Miami, Florida. Once outside, the protestors rallied, displaying hundreds of worn work-shoes from Immokalee’s tomato fields. A CIW delegation presented three pairs to a Burger King representative, urging the fast food giant to “walk a mile in our shoes before you deny the reality of farm-worker poverty and exploitation.”
The CIW is a worker-led community organisation based in Florida, which works with farm workers trafficked into forced labour. Farm workers are some of the poorest paid and most exploited workers within the US economy. They suffer “sweatshop conditions”, said the CIW on accepting the 2007 Anti-Slavery Award in London, “sub-poverty wages, no health insurance, no sick leave, no pensions, no right to overtime pay, no right to organize. Paid by piece rate- 45 cents a bucket- a rate which has not risen in 30 years”.
In 2001, the CIW launched the Campaign for Fair Food targeting the major fast-food corporations responsible for buying vast amounts of produce, and who therefore have tremendous buying power to demand low prices. This puts pressure on suppliers to reduce costs, lowering wages and encouraging poor working conditions.
Their four-year campaign against Taco Bell led to a US-wide boycott and resulted in an historic agreement with Taco Bell’s parent company Yum! Brands for a zero-tolerance policy on slavery, a voice for workers in the development and enforcement of a strict new supplier code of conduct, and a penny more per pound of tomatoes to be passed directly on to the workers. Their campaign against McDonalds expanded upon that success.
The CIW is now calling for action from Burger King to take responsibility for labour exploitation in its supply chains and help end sweatshop conditions in US fields. Burger King, however, has so far refused to work with the CIW to improve the wages and working conditions of those who pick its tomatoes. Instead, Burger King has allied with elements of the Florida tomato industry in a campaign to undermine the CIW’s agreements with Yum! Brands and McDonald’s.