Thursday, December 29, 2005

Comparison of SAFE code with YUM! code

I had posted earlier about the communication from Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to the McDonald's Corporation. I sent inquiries about the issues I raised in that post to Dr. Kirkpatrick and to McDonald's. Both responded promptly, and I have been reflecting on what they each had to say.

The response from McDonalds was as follows:

Hello Stewart:

Thank you for taking the time to contact McDonald's. We appreciate this opportunity share information regarding this important issue.

Please know that McDonald's has been seriously engaged with the stakeholders involved, including our suppliers, industry groups and advocacy organizations such as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

McDonald's supports and applauds the newly created Socially Accountable Farm Employees tomato industry code of conduct. It is one of the first agricultural programs that provides verifiable protections against slave and child labor plus provides assurances that accurate wages and workplace safety protections are provided to workers. For more information on this program, go to:

For more information about McDonald's social accountability program in general, please refer to

Again, thank you for contacting McDonald's.

McDonald's Customer Response Center

At first I thought their response did not take into account the issues I had raised in my earlier post. However, upon review of the SAFE Farm Labor Employer Code of Conduct alongside the YUM! Supplier Code of Conduct, I realized I had not done a more careful comparison of the two policies.

Although the codes of conduct are not identical, they cover many of the same areas, with very similar provisions. Both of the policies include references to compliance with all applicable local, state, and federal law, which is odd because we are told that that there are actually very few applicable laws. As Cliff Kirkpatrick said in his November statement

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.

Both policies require compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. Both prohibit the use of forced or indentured labor. Both have non-discrimination policies. Both require a safe and healthy work environment.

Both have provisions against child labor, but the YUM! policy additionally prohibits use of employees younger than 14.

The Yum! code requires audits and inspections, which implicitly would require that certain records be kept. The SAFE policy specifically requires the maintenance of payroll records and the provision of understandable payroll documents to the workers; it anticipates the development of third-party monitoring of compliance. Both policies seem a bit weak here, and each could be improved.

The Yum! code requires that each supplier develop company-wide policies to ensure compliance and that copies of the policies be provided to the workers. The closest the SAFE policy comes to a provision like this is a commitment to "respectful and open communications with their employees."

The SAFE code addresses housing concerns, while the Yum! policy is silent on this issue.
Participating growers who provide housing will ensure that it meets all the applicable laws and regulations of the jurisdictions in which it is located. No employee will be required to live in grower provided housing as a condition of employment.
Given that housing is often an issue for migrant workers, the presence of this provision seems more responsive to the workers than the Yum! policy.

The SAFE policy requires the payment of "no less than the established lawful wages.". On the other hand, Yum! worked out an agreement to pay more for the tomatoes and to require a corresponding raise for the workers. On this front, Yum! seems to have established the stronger policy, achieving actual justice for the workers.

My conclusion: SAFE has developed a code of employer conduct that is reasonable, and in some respects addresses issues on which Yum! was silent, but the Yum! Supplier Code of Conduct together with its side agreement the CIW seems to be a stronger response to achieve justice.

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