Beginning on Monday, March 10th, Students Against Sweatshops GVSU will be undertaking an intensive campaign designed to remove Taco Bell from the Grand Valley State University campus in response to Taco Bell’s support of sweatshop labor. For the past year and a half the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) have been working together on a campaign designed to achieve improved working conditions and wages for workers who pick tomatoes for Six L’s Packing Inc., who sells tomatoes to Taco Bell. However, Taco Bell has refused to meet with workers to discuss wage increases and improvements in working conditions.
On March 5th, in front of Taco Bell’s corporate headquarters in Irvine, CA, fifty tomato pickers and activists ended a ten-day hunger strike protesting Taco Bell’s support for exploitive wages and working conditions. The hunger strike was part of an ongoing effort designed to force Taco Bell to meet with Six L’s and the workers that pick tomatoes for them. This was only the most recent event in the campaign, which has used a variety of tactics including meetings with university administrators, protests, forums, and many other events designed to get Taco Bell to use their power and influence to improve working conditions for tomato pickers both at Six L’s and across Florida.
The CIW represents tomato pickers who pick tomatoes for Six L’s Packing Inc., a company based in Immokalee, FL whose customers include Taco Bell. Tomato pickers across Florida earn between 40 to 50 cents for every 32lb. bucket of tomatoes they pick, while Six L’s pays only 40 cents–the same rate paid since 1978. At this rate, workers must pick and haul two tons of tomatoes in order to make $50 per day. Department of Labor statistics confirm the dire circumstances facing tomato workers–the median annual income of tomato pickers in Florida is only $7,500 per year. Moreover, tomato pickers do not receive health insurance, sick leave, paid holidays, and overtime pay; while they are not allowed to organize to improve their conditions. As a result, the CIW has called on Taco Bell, as the largest buyer of tomatoes grown in Florida, to use their power and influence to convene talks between Taco Bell, Six L’s, and the CIW; to immediately increase wages by raising the per pound rate paid for tomatoes; and to draft strict wage and working standards for all tomato suppliers used by Taco Bell.
SAS-GVSU is joining with hundreds of activists across the country who are responding to the workers’ calls for boycotts by working to “Boot the Bell”–forcing universities to cut their contracts with Taco Bell. Taco Bell has refused to meet with workers, ignoring letter a variety of different protests, petition drives, and letter writing campaigns. Consequently, activists are working to hurt Taco Bell economically, with activists and human rights supporters organizing campaigns to show that there will be no support for companies that purchase products made under abusive conditions. SAS-GVSU is working to join fourteen schools, including the University of Chicago, Duke University, and the University of San Francisco, who have already cut their contracts with Taco Bell.
Students Against Sweatshops GVSU was founded in the fall of 2000 and is active in the struggle against economic exploitation both in the United States and around the world. It regularly networks with community groups and labor unions in the West Michigan area working for economic and social justice.
An article on a campaign by Students Against Sweatshops GVSU aimed at removing Taco Bell from Grand Valley State Univerity’s campus because of Taco Bell’s use of tomatoes picked under exploitive conditions.