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Oxfam America Sends Farm Worker Rights Petition to Burger King CEO

By Oxfam

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BOSTON — Oxfam America today sent the names of 36,482 people to Burger King CEO John Chidsey, who join Oxfam in calling on the company to improve the wages of farm laborers in the fields.

The petition urges Burger King to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an Oxfam America partner, to commit to improving the wages and working conditions in an agreement nearly identical to ones already signed by Yum! Brands and McDonald’s.

“It is disappointing that Burger King continues to reject overtures to ensure that the rights of workers in your supply chain are protected,” Oxfam America President Raymond C. Offenheiser wrote in a letter accompanying the petition to Chidsey. “CIW’s call for fair food, which has been widely supported by the broader public, is eminently reasonable and not cost-prohibitive. Major corporations throughout the world have recognized that corporate social responsibility, instead of being a burden, is in fact good for their business.”

Since 2001, CIW has worked with fast food producers to improve working conditions for workers in its supply chains by paying one penny more for each pound of tomatoes a worker picks and agreeing to core labor standards. Yum! Brands reached an agreement with CIW in 2005, followed by McDonald’s Corporation in 2007.

CIW has worked with Burger King since 2005 to reach an agreement with CIW, with no success. Burger King officials have cited legal and technical hurdles as reasons for not entering into such an agreement.

“If there were any real legal problems with the agreements Yum! Brands and McDonald’s would have refused to sign,” said Guadalupe Gamboa, Oxfam America Senior Program Officer. “If Burger King truly has concerns about these agreements, the best way to address them is to engage in a constructive dialogue with the CIW.”

On March 13 CIW will launch a campaign in DC calling on its supporters to pressure Burger King to reach an agreement with CIW to increase wages and end forced labor in agriculture.

According to its website, Burger King is “the second largest fast food hamburger chain in the world, recoding $2.23 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2007.”

It is estimated the proposed agreement would cost Burger King $300,000 per year.

Florida laborers pick nearly the entire US winter crop of field-grown fresh tomatoes, earning an average of 45 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick. In order to earn minimum wage, a worker must pick nearly two-and-a-half tons of tomatoes each day.

US farm workers do not have the protection of many US labor laws, including laws protecting the right to organize. This has led to intolerable conditions in the fields, including at least seven documented cases of forced labor and human trafficking mainly in Florida and the Southeast.

A 2004 Oxfam America report, Like Machines in the Fields, found the annual wage for the 3 million US farm workers is between $7,500 or $12,000 per family with no benefits.

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