Student Hunger Strike to Protest Wendy’s Exploitation of Farm Workers

Many thanks to Dave Chapin, who notified us of an Ohio State University student hunger strike to pressure the university to end its contract with Wendy’s – the only major fast food chain that refuses to support the Fair Food Program.  These students fasted for seven straight days to get the attention of OSU administration.  They did get a meeting with OSU officials, but no commitment to terminate Wendy’s franchise on the ground floor of University Hospital.

The Fair Food Program was started thirty years ago by agricultural workers in Immokalee, Florida, to try to improve conditions for agricultural workers, who were paid poverty wages and faced unsafe (sometimes fatal) working conditions.   Under the program, retailers agree to purchase food only from Fair Food certified producers.  They also pay a small premium (about $1 per 1000 pounds of produce) to support the Fair Foods Standards Council.

By all accounts, the program has been a great success.

McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell have all signed on.  Even Walmart participates.  However, Wendy’s (with its headquarters in Dublin, OH) has been the holdout.

In 2014, when the Wendy’s opened at the hospital, student pressure resulted in the insertion of a clause in Wendy’s contract requiring the restaurant chain to join the Fair Food Program.  This is from the website of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers:

When the students say they are calling on the university to “honor its commitment to cut its contract with Wendy’s,” they are not referring to a vague promise once made in passing during an earlier meeting, or to the students’ interpretation of some aspirational university code of ethics.  Not at all.  Instead, they are referring to this specific language in OSU’s lease — their university’s contract — with Wendy’s:

“Whereas, Landlord and Tenant desire to confirm that the Lease is being renewed for a one (1) or two (2) year term, that Tenant shall have three remaining one-year options to renew the Lease, and that Tenant’s ability to exercise its options shall be conditioned upon a satisfactory resolution of the concerns of Student Farm Workers Alliance with regard to the Tenant sourcing of tomatoes for the business that Tenant is operating on the premises.”

A seven day hunger strike is medically risky.  Dave Chapin was there morning and night to monitor the hunger strikers, checking their blood glucose and vitals and looking for any signs of serious complications.  I filled in for the last couple of days since Dave had to work.  I was very impressed with the students’ commitment and their determination.

A lot of them were studying food production and sustainability.  It’s heartening to know there are people in their generation who think of sustainability not just as a political issue, but as a necessity for the planet.  I’m proud that their education at Ohio State supports those values.  We should call upon Ohio State University to put those same values into practice by ending its contract with Wendy’s.  That would send a strong message that the mindless exploitation of people and resources in the name of profit is no longer an acceptable business practice.

If you want to read more, the hunger strike and related actions were covered by The Lantern, here and here.

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