Sunday, February 26, 2006

Wondering if answers will come out of the McDonald's 'Truth Tour'

I've blogged here and here about the communications between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and McDonald's, pressuring the restaurant chain to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in ensuring that tomato pickers earn an extra penny a pound.

Two PC(USA) News Service stories this week told about a letter writing campaign to McDonald's and a "Truth Tour" of the Southeast and Midwest by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

The CIW will ask McDonald's for the following:
  • The right to a fair wage, after more than 25 years of sub-poverty wages and stagnant piece rates;
  • The right for farmworkers to participate in the decisions that affect their lives, after decades of sweatshop conditions and humiliating labor relations;
  • The right to a real code of conduct based on modern labor standards, after McDonald’s and its suppliers unilaterally imposed a hollow code of conduct comprised of minimal labor standards and suspect monitoring.
I agree that the farmworkers are entitled to a fair wage and to participate in decisions that affect their lives.

When I compared the Socially Accountable Farm Employers code (the one described as "a hollow code of conduct comprised of minimal labor standards and suspect monitoring") with the YUM! code developed in cooperation with the CIW, I observed that the SAFE code was reasonable and even addressed some issues on which the YUM! code was silent. The YUM code is as full of language alluding to compliance with all applicable laws as is the SAFE code. Both codes intend to set up mechanisms for monitoring compliance. I don't see why one system of monitoring is more suspect than the other.

The major difference in my view between the McDonald's response and the Yum! response is that Taco Bell (one of the Yum! brands) actually is paying a penny more per pound for the tomatoes and is ensuring that the extra pennies get passed on to the workers. This part of the Yum! response achieves actual justice.

So I have some questions for the Truth Tour.

1. Why is McDonald's any more culpable for the "decades of sweatshop conditions and humiliating labor relations" than I am when I go to the supermarket and buy a pack of tomatoes off the shelf?

2. How can customers like myself ensure that the workers who pick tomatoes are paid fairly for the identifiable tomatoes we purchase?

3. With which vendor or vendors is McDonald's supposed to talk in ensuring that the farmworkers get the pay they deserve? (In the recent Taco Bell boycott, the CIW was asking Taco Bell to work with its main vendor Six L's in paying a penny more a pound and passing it on to the workers.)

4. Is the CIW criticism of the SAFE code any more substantial than the criticism that it "Did Not Originate Here"?

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