02 January 2009

Chipotle: "Food with Integrity" or Slavery?

Chipotle's marketing slogan is "Food with Integrity," and the corporation defines this as:

“Food with Integrity means working back along the food chain. It means going beyond distributors to discover how the vegetables are grown, how the pigs, cows, and chickens are raised… Our size helps us influence the decisions of our suppliers. And lets us shoulder our way into the consciousness of the American eating public…What does all this mean to you? In the short-term it means better-tasting tacos and burritos… Looking forward, it means encouraging growers to pursue humane and healthy practices… It means new and higher expectations from all of us about what we consume every day.”
(Chipotle, "
Our Food with Integrity Manifesto")

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), however, claims that Chipotle's version of "humane" practices is in reality modern day sweatshop labor and slavery in the tomato fields of south Florida. The CIW has continuously prosecuted slavery cases in the state of Florida since 1997, with charges and accusations such as forced labor, imprisonment, rape, inhumane living environments, etc. Though this is the environment surrounding the tomato industry and migrant workers in south Florida, the CIW's main claims against Chipotle are:

In short, we believe that “Work with Dignity” must be an integral part of “Food with Integrity.” But the workers who pick tomatoes for Chipotle today are denied the right to overtime pay, denied the right to organize, and earn sub-poverty annual wages. They receive absolutely none of the traditional employment benefits – no sick leave, no health insurance, no holiday pay, and no retirement plan. It is the contradiction between Chipotle’s vision of “Food with Integrity” – a vision that the company has placed squarely at the heart of its marketing strategy – and the reality of those farm labor conditions that has brought us to ask Chipotle to help us change those conditions. (The CIW responds to claims made by Chipotle)
It is important to realize that, without the above mentioned worker's rights, the conditions for workers in south Florida picking tomatoes for restaurant chains like Chipotle ranges from indentured servitude at best and downright slavery at worst. As a whole the CIW charges the entire south Florida tomato industry with 1) piece rates that haven't changes in 25 yrs, 2) sub-poverty annual wages, 3) no right to overtime, and 4) no right to organize. Chipotle is one of the corporations purchasing tomatoes from this standard of "employment." It is, in fact, the volume-purchasing system itself which seems to be intrinsically connected to the problem:

"Now, these growers are being forced to lower their prices for these specific tomatoes just so the repackers can break even. This eventually will work its way down to the tomato pickers, who may be forced to take a cut... Forcing down the cost of tomatoes, a minor component on the fast-food menu, does little to make the restaurant more profitable. It will go a long way toward harming a loyal group of suppliers and growers and their workers." (“Big fast-food contracts
breaking tomato repackers”

These farmers earn around 45cents for every 42-bucket they fill with tomatoes, and are being exploited by a system which takes advantage of migrant workers with very few options. The working situation for those in the tomato fields of south Florida are beyond miserable and hard for many Americans to understand. For this reason Chipotle and restaurant chains like it that support exploitative labor situations in the name of profit must be boycotted.

The price of a Chipotle burrito is slavery.

For more information regarding slavery in south Florida and actions that can be taken beyond boycotting:
Alliance for Fair Food
Student Farmworker Alliance
article: Chipotle Exploits Farmworkers (elephant)
article: Big fast-food contracts breaking tomato repackers (The Packer)
article: Modern-Day Slavery (Palm Beach Post)
A sample workday for a Florida tomato picker (scroll to bottom)

Purchase tomatoes from local farmer's markets or from grocery stores who participate with Fair Trade policies. Make your own burritos! If possible, grow your own tomatoes and give the extras to your neighbors.

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