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Seeking Living Wage and Humane Conditions, Workers Bring Fair Food Struggle to Chipotle

Chipotle, which claims "food with integrity," is under fire by activists working on labor conditions in the nation's tomato fields.
 
 
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AMY GOODMAN: We are here in Denver, Colorado, as we turn to a six-year human rights campaign targeting the fast-food chain Chipotle, which is headquartered here in Denver. The first Chipotle Mexican Grill opened here in 1993 with the goal of serving a healthier version of fast food such as burritos made from sustainable and naturally raised ingredients. The vision grew as the company expanded nationwide and is summed up in its motto, food with integrity, which is promoted in videos like this one.

STEVE ELLS: We really want to celebrate this idea of the nourishing people and feeding them really great food.

STEVE KAHAN: It is about celebrating relationships.

JONATHAN WOODMAN: Celebrating the land.

JUDE BECKER: Engaging in the process.

RICHARD BLAIS: "It’s like, to grow and to sort of like progress each and every day.

JONATHAN WOODMAN: The farmers are the stars here.

TONY MANTUANO: There are farmers and chefs that are working so hard to make sure your food tastes great and it’s raised right.

STEVE KAHAN: Small farmers care about what they do. People know where their food comes from.

NATE APPLEMAN: This is an important [Inaudible] We put all of our emphasis on the ingredients. That is what differentiates us from everyone else.

AMY GOODMAN: Despite Chipotle’s commitment from serving food that is naturally raised with respect for animals the land and the farmers who produce it, the company, so far, has refused to sign a contract that would ensure a living wage and human conditions for workers who pick the tomatoes it purchases. The contract would confirm its commitment to the Fair Food Program, a project led by the Florida based Coalition of Immokalee Workers. On Tuesday, local supporters joined the group for a protest outside Chipotle’s Denver headquarters, calling on it to join other major chains such as McDonald’s and Burger Kind who have signed on to the program. This weekend, they will be targeting a festival in Denver that’s promoted by Chipotle, and features music, food, chefs, and local farmers, but no farm workers. We are pleased, right not, to be joined by one of the farm workers in our studio. Gerardo Reyes-Chavez is a farm worker and organizer with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Welcome to Democracy Now!, it’s good to have you with us. You have come to Denver to do exactly what on [October] 6th?

GERARDO REYES-CHAVEZ: We are here to talk about the reality of farm-workers, and the notion that farm workers, when you are talking about sustainability, in what Chipotle saying is nonexistent. The farmers should be a central part of the conversation.

AMY GOODMAN: Chipotle were not able to join us on the show today, but we did speak with them by phone. I want to play a short interview Democracy Now! producer Renée Feltz did Tuesday with Chipotle’s Communication Director, Chris Arnold. Renée began by asking Arnold why the company’s refused to sign the Committee Immokalee Workers’ agreement to participate in the Fair Food Program. This was Chipotle’s response.

CHRIS ARNOLD: We’ve always believe that you don’t need to have a contract to do the right thing, and in fact, have a very long track record of driving positive change in the nation’s food supply and done all the things that we have done without having third party contracts. In terms of the transparency of auditing, I would say two things; first of all, they conduct the audits, the CIW or their allies are conducting the audits of growers to determine the practices as it relates to our purchases. We provide records of our Florida tomato purchases to CIW’s auditors so they can see what we’re buying from whom and for how much.

RENEE FELTZ: What about the reason that Chipotle will not sign a contract. Why are you concerns?

CHRIS ARNOLD: The last time that we looked at this, which was about three years ago, there were provisions in the agreement that we had trouble with. The agreement takes into consideration only variables that matter to CIW, and there are a lot of things that matter to us in terms of sourcing the ingredients that we use. The point that gave us the most concern was, at the time, there were no growers initially who were purchasing in CIW’s program, and then only one, initially, when the first [Inaudible] came on line. Yet, the agreement requires that if you go outside of that system, you do so only with CIW’s approval. That is not a degree of control over our supply that we are going to relinquish to anybody, if we can’t get ingredients that meet our high standards, we need to have the flexibility to go to other sources. We are not going to compromise the quality of the food that we serve. In effect, that provision in the agreement would have required that. Now, things have changed some since that agreement. Today, 90% of Florida’s tomatoes are grown under that agreement. So, it is entirely possible that it is no longer an issue.

RENEE FELTZ: Do you think that the company may reconsider now to sign a contract, in part, for example, because the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has presented the failure to sign the contract, so far, possibly as putting concerns over quality over concerns about the human rights for the workers? Do you think Chipotle may now reconsider signing the contract with them for the Fair Food Program?

CHRIS ARNOLD: Yeah, I think that’s certainly a possibility.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Chris Arnold, spokesperson for Chipotle speaking to Democracy Now!'s Renée Feltz. Gerardo Reyes-Chavez, he's saying that they are weighing signing onto this contract.

GERARDO REYES-CHAVEZ: Yeah, there has been six years since they were first approached. There has been a lot of agreements that have been signed with other corporations, ten in total; Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Burger King, just to give a few for examples. Through that, through the Campaign for Fair Food, which is the approach that consumers nationwide are taking with us to convince corporations to motivate them to do the right thing. We have been able to create a fair food program which is addressing the abuses that have been historically happening in the tomato industry. For the first time, we created a whole new system to eliminate the abuses, to identify where abuses are going on and uproot them from the system. This is an opportunity for Chipotle to do the right thing. They claim that they sell food with integrity and they are really focused with the sustainability part of that conversation as one of the main spokes-corporation. What we are saying is that this is an opportunity for them to make it a reality.

AMY GOODMAN: But, they say they are making it a reality even without signing. That 90% of tomatoes grown in Florida actually use this contract.

GERARDO REYES-CHAVEZ: It is true that 90% of the tomato industry is on board with us, but the question is, all of them need the support of the corporations buying. And the corporations need to pay a premium that addresses poverty wages and that corporations need also to be able to cut purchases, if necessary, when there are abuses that are violated.

AMY GOODMAN: October 6th, this Saturday, you’re having a rally here. Your message to Chipotle at this big festival?

GERARDO REYES-CHAVEZ: Yeah, they are going to be talking about how good a corporation they are and we’re going to be there to remind people that without workers, there is no food with integrity or without integrity, there is no food, period.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, Gerardo Reyes-Chavez, farm worker organizer with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers . 

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now! and the co-author of The Silenced Majority.

 
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