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NCC urges McDonald’s to improve worker conditions and wages

New York, December 1, 2005 – The general secretary of the National Council of Churches expressed disappointment today that McDonald’s Corporation has chosen to endorse an “anemic code of conduct” for the treatment of its farm workers.

The Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar said McDonald’s decision contrasts sharply with precedent-setting agreements earlier this year with two major food corporations – Taco Bell Corp., a division of Yum! Brands and the Mt. Olive Pickle Co.

Both companies took major steps to improve the wages and working conditions of their farm laborers, but McDonald’s has opted to “retreat and protect the status quo,” Edgar said.

In June 2005, Edgar said, the NCC wrote to McDonald’s asking management “to follow Taco Bell’s lead” and establish a similar agreement with its workers. Instead, McDonald’s has announced it will adopt guidelines “designed by growers without worker input and does not address poverty wages.”

“McDonald’s,” Edgar said, “we at the National Council of Churches expect you to do better.  You have acquired a strong reputation for social accountability. Now we expect you to build on that reputation to accomplish real change in partnership with the farm workers who are so sorely abused by the current system.”

Edgar called upon McDonald’s “to take immediate steps to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)  to address poverty wages and exploitative working conditions in McDonald’s own supply chain.  Do not delay.  Choose today to help advance human rights by working with the farm workers whose vision for justice is even now bearing its first fruits in the fields.”

The full text of Edgar’s statement:

Every so often there comes a moment that holds out the promise of making the world a significantly better place, if only we take action. the McDonald’s corporation is presented with one of those moments--an opportunity to help transform the agri-food industry in ways that are more fair and just. The question is, Will it seize this moment or will it retreat and protect the status quo? 

In March of 2005, Yum! Brands, the parent company of Taco Bell, achieved an historic agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) that nearly doubled the wages of tomato pickers harvesting for Taco Bell and ensured them safe working conditions.  The National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (NCC) was proud to work side by side with the CIW to bring about this momentous accomplishment and commends Yum! Brands for its leadership in the fast food industry.  But we knew then that this was only the first step in changing the exploitative conditions under which farm workers labor. 

In June of 2005 the NCC wrote a letter to McDonald’s urging it to follow Taco Bell’s lead and work with the CIW to implement within its own supply chain the principles of social responsibility established in the Yum! Agreement. Now McDonald’s has announced it will be partnering with a newly minted, grower-dominated initiative called SAFE (Socially Accountable Farm Employers) rather than working with the CIW, a human rights award-winning farm worker organization that is internationally recognized for its groundbreaking work on labor issues.  Instead of throwing its substantial weight behind the proven model of the Yum! Brands agreement that is already benefiting workers, McDonald’s has chosen to lift up SAFE’s anemic code of conduct, which was designed by growers without worker input and does not address stagnant poverty wages. 

The SAFE organization was established in early November by the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association – apparently with substantial help from a public relations firm that counts McDonald’s among its important clients.  While SAFE’s code employs sweeping language about “no forced labor” and “social accountability,” it only asks growers to obey current laws.  Why should growers need an organization to do what is already legally required of them? 

SAFE’s own website reveals the limitations built into the heart of this new so-called "independent" organization. The website indicates that the body intended to represent independent worker voices in a child-care agency--the Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA)--that receives regular and generous donations from the growers association.     

McDonald’s, we at the National Council of Churches expect you to do better.  You have acquired a strong reputation for social accountability. Now we expect you to build on that reputation to accomplish real change in partnership with the farm workers who are so sorely abused by the current system.  Now is the time for McDonald’s to become a partner with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in transforming those aspects of the agricultural and fast food industries that have exploited farm workers for corporate profit.  As a corporation that benefits in the form of low-cost tomatoes from the current system, you have a pressing moral responsibility to act now.   

I call upon you to take immediate steps to work with the CIW to address poverty wages and exploitative working conditions in McDonald’s own supply chain.  Do not delay.  Choose today to help advance human rights by working with the farm workers whose vision for justice is even now bearing its first fruits in the fields.

The National Council of Churches USA is composed of 35 Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, historic African American and peace communions representing 45 million Christians in 100,000 local congregations in the United States. 

Contact NCC News: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2252, pjenks@ncccusa.org; or Leslie Tune, 202-544-2350, ltune@ncccusa.org                        

 


 

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