2005 – Fair food campaign forces the hand of Taco Bell

In 1993, the small, community-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) was formed to demand an end to poverty wages and terrible working conditions endured by Florida’s tomato pickers. In 2005, their boycott of Taco Bell, one of the world’s largest fast-food corporations, led to a rise in wages of almost 75% and set an inspiring precedent for farm worker organizing,

The campaign worked due to the clear list of demands the coalition pulled together as well as a strategy that cleverly targeted the weakest link in the food supply chain, the fast food firms. Initially, CIW had identified tomato growing firms as the group with power to give them what they wanted, but while a powerful campaign including community-wide work stoppages and a high-profile hunger strike won the first wage increase in twenty years, it was not sufficient. Focusing on the corporations that bought from the growers, such as Taco Bell, however was more successful as these depended on their public image.

The CIW launched the boycott of Taco Bell in 2001, calling it to take responsibility for human rights violations in their supply chain, to improve working conditions and increase wages (an additional penny-per-pound increase). The campaign organised cross-country caravans that held rallies outside Taco Bell restaurants; students organised petitions to “Boot the Bell” from campus food courts; religious, labour and community leaders publicly endorsed the boycott and marches and hunger strikes were held outside Taco Bell headquarters.

After four years of actions by the CIW and their allies, Taco Bell conceded and agreed to all of CIW’s demands.

In subsequent years, CIW turned the pressure on burrito company Chipotle that in 2012 after major public pressure decided to sign the Fair Food Agreement. Chipotle became the 11th major corporation to commit to purchase Florida tomatoes grown only on farms with a minimum wage and with basic working conditions stipulated and monitored by the Fair Food Standards Council.

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Coalition of Immokalee workers rally for justice on a secondary target’s doorstep. Photo from Beautiful Trouble