Chipotle Refuses to Sign Popular Farm Worker Protection Agreement

With it’s decision to air a melodic, tear jerker of an ad showing the pitfalls of factory farming, and commitment to serving locally produced, humanely raised meat, Chipotle Mexican Grill has been getting a lot of positive buzz recently. But lurking in the background are a few issues that run counter to the company’s widespread claims that it’s serving “Food with Integrity.”

In addition to concerns about the high caloric content of its food that is marketed as fresh and healthy, Chipotle is now receiving criticism for its refusal to sign on to an agreement aimed at protecting farm workers on Florida farms where the company purchases tomatoes. The Campaign for Fair Food, which was started by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), has won the support of several major brands including Whole Foods, Taco Bell, Trader Joe’s and McDonalds. The campaign asks the major purchasers of Florida tomatoes to take a few seemingly straightforward actions that, according to the CIW, will go a long way toward improving working conditions and protecting workers at Florida’s tomato farms. These include:

  • Paying a penny more per pound for tomatoes, and asking farmers to pass that penny through to their workers.
  • Creating market incentives for suppliers that follow the CIW’s Code of Conduct which looks out for workers’ rights.
  • Providing 100 percent transparency about which Florida suppliers they are purchasing tomatoes from.

None of these terms strike me as particularly controversial in nature, so it surprising to hear that Chipotle, which claims to be committed to using ingredients that are “raised with respect for animals, the environment and farmers,” has been unwilling to follow the lead taken by other companies and sign on. As Mirra Fine of the Perennial Plate points out in her blog detailing the situation in Florida, “It is especially surprising that Chipotle, the one corporation whom you would assume would be at the forefront of workers’ rights issues, is distancing themselves.”

Apparently, the issue came up at the recent Edible Institute event, a gathering of the big names in the local food movement. During his panel, Chipotle’s Communications Director, Chris Arnold, was asked why the company hasn’t signed on with CIW. According to the CIW’s account of what happened (complete with Twitter coverage), the room burst into applause in response to the question but Arnold failed to really respond to it. Check out the CIW website for an overview of Chipotle’s arguments in defense of their decision not to sign on to the Campaign for Fair Food and the CIW’s responses.

It appears that this issue is starting to garner some attention so it will be interesting to see if Chipotle holds out or finally decides to support the CIW. To get a firsthand account of the experience of an Immokalee tomato field worker, watch the Perennial Plate’s short film below.

[Image credit: National Farm Worker Ministry, Flickr]

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Kara Scharwath is a corporate social responsibility professional, marketing consultant and Sustainable Management MBA Candidate. She is currently working as a Graduate Associate in Corporate Citizenship at the Walt Disney Company while pursuing her degree at Presidio Graduate School. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.

Kara is a corporate social responsibility professional and marketing consultant with expertise in consumer research and environmental science. Currently, Kara is working as a Graduate Associate on the Corporate Citizenship team at the Walt Disney Company. She is also a founding partner of BeSui Consulting, a boutique marketing consulting firm specializing in consumer insights and marketing communications.Kara graduated from Rutgers University with a B.S. in Environmental Policy, Institutions and Behaviors. She is currently pursuing her M.B.A. in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School where she is exploring the impact investing space and working to identify new ways to increase access to capital for start-ups and social ventures. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.