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McDonald's & Chipotle Under Fire for Exploiting Tomato Pickers

By BBC News
October 3, 2006

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has become the latest religious group to call on McDonald's to push for its tomato suppliers to pay higher wages.

With most of McDonald's U.S. tomatoes coming from Florida, the bishops want the firm to broker a deal between the state's growers and main pickers union.

The call comes after Yum! Brands, owner of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC, achieved a similar agreement last year.

Florida's tomato pickers are chiefly Hispanic, Haitian and Mayan immigrants.

The Catholic move comes after similar action from the Prebyterian Church, United Church of Christ, and National Council of Churches.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, head of the Conference of Catholic Bishop's Domestic Policy Committee, has sent an open letter to McDonald's to put across its thoughts.

He told McDonald's that with "substantial purchasing power, you can insist that your produce suppliers meet high ethical standards in how they treat their workers".

McDonald's spokesman William Whitman said the company has required suppliers to comply with its code of conduct on workers' health, safety and legal rights since it was established in 1993.

"We believe that all employees, including those who work for our business partners, should be treated with dignity and respect in every aspect of the employment relationship," he said.

Florida's immigrant farmworkers are represented by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

This group boycotted Yum! Brands outlets for four years before an increased pay deal was brokered last year.

By Kristi Arellano    
Denver Post
September 12, 2006

A coalition of Florida farmworkers is targeting Chipotle Mexican Grill, the Denver burrito chain that has built a reputation for using naturally raised and often organic foods.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is questioning Chipotle's "food with integrity" mantra, alleging that the company purchases tomatoes from farms that underpay and often mistreat their workers. Chipotle says it is being unfairly targeted because of its association with fast- food giant McDonald's.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers previously led a four-year campaign against Taco Bell. The group succeeded in forcing the chain, owned by Yum Brands Inc., to pay an extra penny per pound for Florida tomatoes and to adopt a code of conduct that allowed it to drop suppliers that abused farmworkers.

Taco Bell estimated that the agreement will cost an extra $100,000 per year.

Five members of the coalition, based in Immokalee, Florida, will arrive in Colorado today to begin meeting with local supporters and establishing a network in Chipotle's backyard. They have not requested a meeting with Chipotle executives, nor do they have any events planned.

The group has previously written letters asking Chipotle to support improved standards for its tomato suppliers but has not heard back, said Julia Perkins, a staff member for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

"The reason we've chosen Chipotle is because they've said very clearly that they believe in honest foods," Perkins said. "We'd like to give them the opportunity to see that the human beings in their food-supply chain are also afforded humane treatment."

Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold said the company is likely being targeted because it was majority-owned by McDonald's. Chipotle went public earlier this year, and McDonald's last week began divesting its remaining shares of the company through a stock exchange.

Florida tomatoes account for about 20% of Chipotle's needs and are purchased just 12 weeks a year. Tomatoes from Immokalee represent five percent of Chipotle's supply and come from four farms that the company has monitored for standards compliance, Arnold said.

"It's unfortunate the group has painted an entire industry with the same brush," he said.

Industry experts were unsure how the attack on Chipotle could affect its squeaky-clean reputation.

"A brand that is built on integrity probably has more to lose than one that's built on value or convenience," said Denver restaurant consultant John Imbergamo.

Chipotle's rising popularity makes makes it an increasingly likely target for such campaigns, said Ron Paul, president of Chicago restaurant consulting firm Technomic.

"They're going to have to respond, given the high visibility they have achieved," he said.