Last Friday, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) protested against Burger King’s leading role in denying them decent wages. The march also targeted private equity firm Goldman Sachs, which owns a substantial share of Burger King stock.
The tomato pickers, many of them undocumented immigrants, are among the worst-paid and most abused workers in America. The US Justice Department has prosecuted various cases of slavery at tomato farms. Labour conditions at the farms are pretty much dictated by large fast food chains, the main buyers of tomatoes.
In 2005, CIW actions and a consumer boycott ended in an agreement with Yum Brands (Taco Bell) to pay a penny more per pound for tomatoes, in order to give the workers a modest but significant raise. Later, McDonald’s signed a similar agreement.
However, Burger King and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange now try to sabotage these agreements. The latter organisation threatens to fine tomato growers who accept the extra penny a $100,000 fine.
Eric Schlosser, writer of the best-selling book Fast Food Nation, said Burger King’s role in this ‘offers a spectacle of yuletide greed worthy of Charles Dickens’. He adds that the CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, last year received ‘the largest annual bonus in Wall Street history, and this year he stands to receive an even larger one’. Joining the penny per pound agreement would cost Burger King only $250,000 dollar per year.