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NCC President Hoyt Addresses Immokalee, Fla.,
News Conference for Farm Workers' Rights

March 15, 2004, IMMOKALEE, Fla. -- "This is an historic moment – a sacred moment when each and every one of us is called to decide: will we use our power to put an end to exploitation or will we hide ourselves among what Dr. King called the “fraternities of the indifferent?”  So declared Christian Methodist Episcopal Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt, Jr., (pictured, left) President of the National Council of Churches USA, today (March 15) at a news conference for farm workers' rights.

The Honorable Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, joined leaders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), the National Council of Churches USA, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Oxfam America at the news conference to bring attention to human rights abuses of farm workers in America’s fields. The human rights leaders called on Yum Brands, the largest fast food company in the world and a major buyer of Florida produce, to guarantee the rights of workers in their supply chain and to help end the human exploitation occurring in the fields of Florida.

Yum Brands owns Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Long Johns Silver’s as well as Pizza Hut and many other fast food companies. Yum Brands buys 40 million pounds of tomatoes per year while farm workers must pick two tons of produce in order to earn $50 per day. Over the past twenty-five years the piece rate for tomatoes has declined by 65%.

As a large institutional buyer Yum has the power to ensure that workers get their fair share. Ms. Robinson, CIW, NCC, the PC(USA) and Oxfam are calling on Yum’s CEO David Novak, its boards of directors and major investors in the company to exercise true corporate leadership by ensuring fairness for the rights of workers in their supply chains which includes respect for core labor standards.

At the March 15 news conference, Oxfam America released two groundbreaking studies: “Trading Away Our Rights,” which shows how the global supply chain is eroding labor rights in 13 countries covering 32 million workers and calls for corporate responsibility; and “Like Machines in the Fields,” which exposes the denial of rights to U.S. farmworkers through discrimination in law and by a supply chain business model which generates profits by squeezing workers in the supply chain.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is the Florida-based farmworker organization spearheading the national Taco Bell Boycott.  The boycott seeks an end to conditions in East Coast tomato fields that run the gamut from sweatshops to slavery.  The boycott has won the support of the National Council of Churches and several of its member communions.  The NCC Executive Board, meeting February 23-24, set up a committee to monitor and report on the progress of boycott efforts and the response of Taco Bell and its parent company, Yum Brands.

Dr. Hoyt's statement follows:

Statement by
Bishop Thomas Hoyt, Jr., President
National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.

Good morning, my name is Bishop Thomas Hoyt, Jr., of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and President of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. It is an honor to be standing with you this morning. The National Council of Churches of Christ is made up of 36 Protestant and Orthodox communions whose constituent membership is more than 50 million Christians in the United States.

I was invited here today because the NCC has supported the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and member church communions as they endeavor to bring justice into the agri-food industry and well-being to the workers that pick tomatoes.

Friends, “one of the great travesties of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of the status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions.” They are modern day Rip Van Winkles. “But today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change. The large house in which we live demands that we transform this world-wide neighborhood into a world-wide brotherhood. Together we must learn to live as brothers (and sisters) or together we will be forced to die together as fools.” So said the great prophet of civil and human rights, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The civil rights movement taught us that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. That we must keep awake and face the challenge of change and his words echo down to us today. Because some of us are still sleeping!

But this morning a wake-up call is being made to the agri-food industry. And the alarm is sounding first in the headquarters of Yum! Brands. As the largest fast food company in the world, Yum! Brands is an industry leader in a fast-food industry whose fruit is exploitation.

Workers earning the same piece rate of 40 cents per bucket that they earned more than 20 years ago. Friends the alarm is ringing, and this is your wake-up call. Five cases of slavery in the past five years, and two new cases uncovered this past fall, friends the alarm is ringing, and this is your wake-up call. Across the nation ordinary folks are boycotting Taco Bell because we do not want to eat food tainted with the exploitation of our sisters and brothers. Friends the alarm is ringing, and this is your wake-up call.

It is the alarm of human conscience sounding, calling you to get up, stand up and help us create a world-wide family based on human rights. Of course you can keep on hitting the snooze. You can keep on saying “it’s not my responsibility.” You can keep on pretending that you don’t have the power to do anything. You can procrastinate and suggest we do more studies. Yes my friends, you can keep on hitting that snooze. But if you do, you should know that this alarm will keep on ringing. For wherever people are exploited, wherever people are demeaned, wherever people are defrauded God is there. God is here. And God will not be silent. Friends this alarm is ringing, and this is your wake-up call.

This is an historic moment - a sacred moment when each and every one of us is called to decide: will we use our power to put an end to exploitation or will we hide ourselves among what Dr. King called the “fraternities of the indifferent?” Systems of economic commerce are larger than any one of us, yes, but they require all of us working together to change them. The workers can’t do it alone. The government can’t do it alone. The human rights leaders can’t do it alone. The church can’t do it alone. And the growers can’t do it alone. Yum! Brands is the largest fast food company in the world with the largest food purchasing co-operative in the world that purchases solely for Yum! companies. Because of Yum! Brand’s size and volume purchasing Mr. Novak we need your company to be a part of this solution. We need you to be an industry leader in ensuring human well-being.

Mr. Novak and Yum! Brands executives, together we can turn this around. As one beloved community, let’s make justice good business.

-end-

Related links:

Click here to read more about, see photos from the March 15 event
Click here for stories, photos from the February 27-March 5, 2004, Taco Bell Truth Tour
Join the "One More Penny a Pound" Campaign; send an e-mail to Yum Brands' CEO David Novak
Read Oxfam's new report, "Like Machines in the Field: Workers Without Rights in American Agriculture"
Background: NCC Joins Taco Bell Boycott -- Read the news story (11/6/03)

Media Contact: 212-870-2252 or 202-544-2350 x11; news@ncccusa.org


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