The Taco Bell Boycott -- a short
The Taco Bell Boycott
History in Brief
tomatoes in Florida receive 40 – 45 cents for every 32 pound bucket of
tomatoes picked and earn, on average, $7,500 a year according to the
Department of Labor. Their wages have remained unchanged in more
than 20 years. In the past five years there have been three cases of
debt-bondage slavery in the tomato fields that have been prosecuted by the
U.S. Department of Justice and for which convictions and prison sentences
have been handed down to crew leaders. Two more cases were uncovered
in the fall of 2003.
farmworkers formed the Coalition of Immokalee
Workers and engaged in hunger strikes, work stoppages, and appeals to
government leaders to address the exploitation in the fields. But
there was no significant movement from the growers to raise wages or to
dialogue with the workers. In 1999 “The Packer,” a grower’s journal
published an article describing the long-term contractual relationship
between Taco Bell and one of the lowest paying growers in Florida, the
Six-L’s Packing Company.
So in 2000 the
Coalition of Immokalee Workers sought the help of an important client of
Florida growers, Taco Bell. When Taco Bell did not respond to
multiple letters and phone calls requesting that they address exploitation
among their tomato suppliers, the workers called for a consumer boycott of
Taco Bell in 2001. The workers and those who support the boycott are
asking Taco Bell:
to participate in three-way
talks between the company, tomato suppliers, and representatives of the
Coalition of Immokalee Workers,
to contribute to an immediate
increase in farm worker wages through an increase in the per pound rate
Taco Bell pays for its tomatoes with the agreement from its suppliers to
pass this increase along to the workers, and
work with Taco Bell’s tomato suppliers and the Coalition of Immokalee
Workers to establish a code of conduct that would ensure workers’
bodies are observing the boycott?
After much study and
prayer, this consumer boycott was endorsed by many national religious
bodies including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of
Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, the Christian Church
(Disciples of Christ), the American Friends Service Committee and most
recently, the National Council of Churches of Christ in the (U.S.A.) whose
membership comprises 36 Protestant and Orthodox communions whose
constituent membership represents over 50 million Christians in the United
States. Church leaders and local congregations have been actively
letter-writing and boycotting the restaurant and its products. The
boycott has also been endorsed by Bishop John J. Nevins of the Diocese of
Venice in Florida who has written to all of the congregations in his
How has the
Presbyterian Church been involved?
and presbyteries in Florida have been ministering to the needs of
farmworkers through donations of clothing,
food, shared prayer and by supporting Immokalee based service
organizations that seek to ameliorate education, health, and housing
needs. Realizing that such charitable ministry was essential but
would not eliminate the poverty or exploitation faced by the workers,
local Presbyterians encouraged the CIW to apply for a Self Development of
People grant. The CIW received the grant which helped them
coordinate worker campaigns and start a co-op which provides basic
foodstuffs at discounted prices to workers. As Florida clergy and members
accompanied the workers through the hunger strikes, marches, and work
stoppages mentioned above, they and the workers grew to believe that
significant change could realistically be achieved by approaching the
problem from the top of the agri-food industry
chain – not only with the growers, but with the grower’s clients who
profited from worker exploitation in the form of low-cost tomatoes.
After the workers called for a consumer boycott of Taco Bell, the Tampa
Bay Presbytery brought a resolution in support of the boycott to the
reflection and prayer General Assembly endorsed the consumer boycott of
Taco Bell in June 2002. Since that time the stated clerk has written
to Taco Bell, Yum! Brands, Inc. (Taco Bell’s parent
company), the Florida state legislature and senate, and
to Six L’s Packing Company calling upon all parties to address the
half-time national staff person was hired to coordinate the church’s
participation, a website,
www.pcusa.org/boycott, was established and resources on the boycott
were produced. Congregations have been observing the boycott,
holding educational forums and letter-writing campaigns, and participating
in public actions to draw attention to these issues. Some Presbyterians
who are shareholders in Yum! voted for a
shareholder resolution in May 2003 which called on Yum!
to provide comprehensive reporting on labor
conditions throughout its supply chain which garnered an unprecedented 39%
of shareholder votes. A similar resolution will be voted upon in May 2004.
Because of the
strength of the Presbyterian Church’s witness, the stated clerk was able
to convene a meeting between the farmworkers
and senior Yum! Brand’s management. The
dialogue was vigorous and opened channels for further communication though
no breakthroughs were achieved.
In November 2003 three
members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers won the Robert F. Kennedy
Human Rights Award for their work on the boycott and against slavery in
the fields. It is the first time in the award’s history that it has
been presented to people living and working in the United States. In
the fall of 2003 the CIW was featured in National Geographic Magazine and
a PBS documentary on slavery.
What can we do?
Pray for the workers, Taco
Bell / Yum and their suppliers.
Support the February 25 –
March 5, 2004 “Truth Tour” which will involve marches and peaceful rallies
at Yum! Brands in Louisville, KY (Feb. 27) and
Taco Bell in Irvine, CA (March 5).
Write to Taco Bell and ask
them to use their power to end exploitation in the field. Address
letters to Mr. Emil Brolick, President, Taco Bell Corp., 17901 Von Karman, CA 92614.
Please also write to
the Board of Directors of Taco Bell’s parent company, Yum! Brands Inc. at
1441 Gardiner Lane, Louisville, KY 40213 and ask them to ensure workers’
welfare just as they ensure the welfare of animals throughout their supply
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) educational, biblical, advocacy,
liturgical, and youth resources on the Taco Bell boycott and the issues
www.ciw-online.org, The Coalition of
Immokalee Worker’s website.
“Nobodies: American Slaves Today,”
by John Bowe, The New Yorker Magazine, April 21 & 28, 2003
“21st Century Slaves,” by
Andrew Cockburn, National Geographic Magazine, September 2003
“Dying to Leave,” a documentary by
Andrew Wolf, PBS Wide Angle Special, aired September 25, 2003
www.pcusa.org/boycott or email
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 631-751-7076
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