Friday, November 25, 2005

What is the PCUSA saying to McDonald's?

According to this news story, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issued a statement on the day before Thanksgiving calling the McDonald's Corporation to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and pay an increase per pound for the tomatoes McDonald’s purchases and ensure that the increase is passed along to the workers who harvest, and establish an enforceable code of conduct to ensure safe working conditions. The statement took me by surprise because I had not known that the PCUSA had any issues with McDonald's.

Here is his statement, inset and in italics, with my comments appearing in normal text and with normal margins.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is proud to work as a partner with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a human rights award-winning, worker-led community organization of Mexican, Guatemalan and Haitian laborers, to establish socially responsible purchasing in the corporate food industry, guarantee the human rights of farmworkers and end modern-day slavery in the fields. We do this because scripture calls us to be stewards of God’s creation, which includes our economic life, and because we follow Jesus Christ who, as a poor man himself, inaugurated his own ministry by bringing “good news to the poor.”

I affirm our partnership with the CIW, even though I was not one of those who joined in the particular strategy of boycotting Taco Bell.

The decisions and practices of large corporations have enormous impact on our lives. Through its work on animal welfare and environmental safety, McDonald’s has illustrated that it understands it has a responsibility to ensure that its practices build, rather than diminish, well-being.
However, McDonald’s reputation for social responsibility will be undermined if it continues to pursue the Socially Accountable Farm Employers (SAFE) program as if it alone were an adequate solution to the grievous conditions and sub-poverty wages of farmworkers. It is time for McDonald’s to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to directly increase workers wages and to put an end human-rights violations in the fields.

The abrupt introduction of SAFE into this letter leads me to think that this is more a statement to McDonald's than to the general public who have not been a part of any prior conversations in which SAFE has been mentioned. SAFE has a website here. SAFE is a certifying organization, and you can read more about their standards on their website.
In March of 2005, Yum! Brands, the largest fast-food company in the world and the parent company of Taco Bell, reached a ground-breaking agreement with the CIW which enhances the human rights of farmworkers. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its congregations across the country were proud to work with the CIW to achieve this historic gain. Taco Bell is now paying a penny more per pound of tomatoes it purchases and ensuring that this increase goes directly to the Florida farmworkers - nearly doubling their wages. Yum has also crafted a substantial Code of Conduct in partnership with the CIW which ensures expert and independent enforcement. The Yum!-CIW agreement is now being rolled out and workers are already receiving the wage increase and other concrete benefits.
I concur that the agreement between Yum! Brands and CIW was a groundbreaking step. The referenced policies put Yum! Brands in the position of proactively working for justice in its supply chain, setting an example for other restaurant chains.
For the last six months, the CIW and its allies in the faith, student, and NGO communities have asked McDonald’s to work with them to implement the principles of the Yum!-CIW agreement in McDonald’s own supply chain. But instead of building on this proven solution and working with the CIW to ensure just wages for farmworkers, McDonald’s has chosen to work with a grower-led initiative called SAFE that does not include any independent farmworker labor organizations, including the CIW.
I can't find any reference to SAFE on the McDonald's website, and would be interested in hearing from McDonald's about the corporation's view of the conversations with CIW and its relationship with SAFE.

SAFE does name the Redlands Christian Migrant Association as one of its collaborators. Although the RCMA does much laudable work among farmworker families, it does not appear to be an independent farmworker labor organization. Its mission statement says that it "creates and fosters opportunities for the children of migrant and other low-income rural families to maximize the choices in their lives." It began when a group of Mennonites in Dade County provided care for farmworker children.
A close look at the language of SAFE’s mission and code of conduct shows that its goal is to ensure that growers follow the law. Of course the PC(USA) believes growers should follow the law. It is such a minimal expectation that it is revealing that an organization should need to be created to make sure growers do what is already legally required of them.
You can find the SAFE Code of Conduct here. One does not even need to read it closely to notice that every time a standard for employment is stated it goes no further than requiring that growers abide by the law.
The Yum!-CIW agreement assumes compliance with all applicable laws but recognizes that corporations must go even further. Because of their high-volume, year-round, demand for low-cost tomatoes, corporate food buyers like McDonald’s and Yum actually have a hand in depressing workers’ wages as growers who supply them seek to contain costs. But corporations also have the power and ability to change these conditions as has been evidenced in the Yum! Brands-CIW agreement.
The Yum-CIW agreement does indeed go further than merely expecting compliance with the law. It included steps to pass a raise along to the migrant farmworkers and ensure that they received it.

Currentlym farmworkers picking tomatoes in Florida for McDonald’s are still earning 40-45 cents for every 32-pound bucket they pick and haul - the same wage they received more than 25 years ago. Further, farmworkers are explicitly excluded from the National Labor Relations Act which denies them the right to organize, the right to negotiate with their employers, and the right to appeal grievances to the National Labor Relations Board. Current law does not provide farmworkers with overtime pay or secure other benefits such as healthcare.
McDonald’s has a clear moral responsibility to take leadership to assure just working conditions and compensation for the very persons who provide the products which are at the heart of its operation. Any corporation which benefits through the exploitation of others is gravely implicated in such exploitation and has a moral and ethical responsibility to end that exploitation.

This paragraph is one point where I start to wonder where this statement is heading. This statement stops short of threatening a boycott of McDonalds. I am familiar with the rhetoric about benefitting through the exploitation of others, and I continue to question (as I did in the Taco Bell situation) whether a corporation puchasing tomatoes is implicated in the vendor's exploitation of its workers. This negative argument still does not carry the day with me. Nevertheless, the example of Yum! being willing to work with the employees of its vendor to achieve justice within the vendor's organization is a powerful example of what any corporation such as McDonalds can accomplish.

As the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, on behalf of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), I call upon McDonald’s to work with the CIW and
- pay an increase per pound for the tomatoes McDonald’s purchases and ensure that the increase is passed along to the workers who harvest
- establish an enforceable code of conduct to ensure safe working conditions

This is the most surprising paragraph in the statement for me. I cannot remember McDonald's being mentioned in a recent General Assembly action. I do not know when the General Assembly voted to call upon McDonald's to do anything, or when it authorized its Stated Clerk to issue this statement to McDonald's. The statement itself does not cite any specific General Assembly actions, but claims the authority for speaking to McDonald's is because of the Stated Clerk's position. I would be very interested in hearing what actions of the General Assembly the Stated Clerk had in mind when he called upon McDonald's to take these steps.
Recently McDonald’s announced that it will serve “fair trade” coffee in its restaurants across the Northeast, a development which we heartily support. If McDonald’s can do this in the coffee industry, it can do it in the tomato industry as well. Yum! Brands has already taken leadership to implement a substantial and concrete model, together with the CIW. It is time for McDonald’s to do the same.
This is a good approach to McDonald's, and one that shows appropriate respect for the ways in which the corporation is already taking steps to work for global justice. I hope McDonald's will follow the example of proactive leadership Yum! Brands has set.

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