Taco Bell has agreed to pay an additional 1 cent per pound for tomatoes, prompting a group of Florida farm workers to end a consumer boycott of the fast-food chain.
Several religious organizations, including the National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church (USA), The United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), endorsed the boycott, aimed at improving the living standard of farmworkers.
“This is really, really good news,” National Council of Churches General Secretary Bob Edgar said in response to the announcement.
Edith Rasell, the UCC’s minister for labor relations and community economic development, hailed the news as “an important victory.”
“We can be proud that the UCC was the first national denomination to endorse the boycott, and that many UCC congregations all over the country worked and prayed in support of this struggle for justice,” Rasell said.
Taco Bell on Tuesday announced that it will fund a penny per pound “pass-through” with its suppliers of Florida tomatoes and will undertake joint efforts with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers on several fronts to improve working conditions in Florida’s tomato fields.
The CIW, a group of mostly Latino laborers from the tomato-growing region around Immokalee, Fla., recently sponsored a “Taco Bell Truth Tour” asking people to stay away from Taco Bell and other restaurants run by its parent company, Yum Brands, until the company pressured tomato growers to pay better wages and improve working conditions.
Lucas Benitez, co-director of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, said farm workers earn about $7,500 a year, without health insurance or paid vacations. The extra penny per pound picked will boost the pay of the roughly 1,000 farm workers employed by Taco Bell suppliers, bringing them “almost to the poverty level,” Benitez said, quoted by the Associated Press.
The move will cost Taco Bell, which buys about 10 million pounds of Florida tomatoes every year, an additional $100,000 annually. Yum, based in Louisville, Ky., also owns KFC, Pizza Hut, Long John Silver’s and A&W All-American Food restaurants.
“As an industry leader, we are pleased to lend our support to and work with the CIW to improve working and pay conditions for farmworkers in the Florida tomato fields,” Emil Brolick, Taco Bell president, said in a statement. “We recognize that Florida tomato workers do not enjoy the same rights and conditions as employees in other industries, and there is a need for reform.”
Benitez called it “an important victory for farmworkers, one that establishes a new standard of social responsibility for the fast-food industry and makes an immediate material change in the lives of workers.”
Former president Jimmy Carter, who supported the workers, helped negotiate the resolution reached through the Atlanta-based Carter Center.
The Taco Bell president said any solution has to be industry wide and that his company “does not have the clout” to solve all the issues raised by the CIW. “But we are willing to play a leadership role within our industry to be part of the solution,” Brolick said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.