Opinion » Mail

October 20 2004

Taco Bell at Boise State

For several years students, faculty and other human rights advocates throughout the United States have been pressuring Yum Brand Foods, the parent company of Taco Bell, to respond to the exploitation of farm workers in Florida, where many of Taco Bell's tomatoes are grown. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is making three demands: 1) Taco Bell/ Yum pays one penny more per pound of tomatoes to its suppliers and ensure that the payment is passed on to the workers; 2) Taco Bell/Yum implements an enforceable and independently verifiable code of conduct to eliminate labor abuses in its supply chain; and 3) Taco Bell/Yum uses its purchasing power to convene three-way talks between themselves, the CIW, and the growers.

Across the United States a boycott is growing rapidly, attempting to encourage Taco Bell/Yum to negotiate with the CIW. Major universities including UCLA, UT Austin, Grand Valley State and Notre Dame have severed their relations with Taco Bell in response to growing awareness of exploitation of Florida's tomato pickers.

Boise State, however, has chosen to expand its association with Taco Bell. In exchange for about $4 million BSU has renamed the Pavilion "Taco Bell Arena." This is seen by many in the Boise community as poor policy for two reasons.

First, it links the good name of BSU with a corporation widely perceived as indifferent to the exploitation of farm workers. The action ignores the rising tide of concern for the human rights of the tomato pickers on whom Taco Bell relies for its supplies of tomatoes.

Second, Taco Bell has alienated many Mexican Americans and allies who resent the corporation's history of stereotyping Mexicans through its advertising campaigns. Mexican Americans who are first generation university students and justly proud of their accomplishments are appalled by the BSU/Taco Bell identification and are even considering a boycott of BSU. 

Resolutions currently before the BSU student and faculty senates urge the BSU administration to terminate its contract with ES-O-EN, the local Taco Bell franchisee. Advocates of contract termination contend that the action is needed to avoid damage to the good name of the university. Termination of the contract would also demonstrate BSU's commitment to the fundamental human right to work in safe and healthy work conditions with reasonable hours of work compensated fairly with livable wages, health insurance and other benefits.

On May 20, 2004, following talks between Taco Bell/Yum and CIW at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Taco Bell proposed a solution that is no solution. Former President Jimmy Carter responded as follows:

"I have followed with concern for a number of years the appalling working conditions in the Florida-based tomato industry. While production costs in the industry have increased over the past 25 years, wages have been effectively stagnant, as giant cooperative buying mechanisms hold prices down. Conditions are so bad in parts of the industry that there have been two separate prosecutions for slavery in recent years. ... While Yum's belated acknowledgment of the need for improved pay and conditions is welcome, this cannot be considered a serious proposal. Yum is saying that only if the CIW ends its boycott will it be willing to support efforts to improve wages, and only if the rest of the industry does. This is a lost opportunity for the head of the world's largest restaurant company to take the lead in eliminating human rights abuses that he knows exist within his supply chain."

The Honorable Mary Robinson, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights--who somewhat ironically was a Distinguished Lecturer at BSU on October 19th--responded to the Yum proposal as follows: "My message to Yum Brands is: you can't pass the buck. You are profiting by exploitation and you have the power to change what is happening in the fields. So, pay a penny a pound more for workers' rights and assume your fair share of responsibility."

It is an embarrassment and mark of shame on the good name of Boise State University that the university administration has apparently decided to ignore these fundamental human rights issues. In so doing, BSU has inadvertently thrown its weight on the side of corporate exploitation of farm workers.

--William SimpsonWhitaker, BSU Professor of Social Work


To conservative Christian Bush voters: It's time to accept responsibility for electing Incurious George as president. Due to your uncritical thinking and certitude you elected a man that condemned over 1,000 young Americans to death in Iraq based on lies. WWJD?

Further, our smart bombs have killed thousands of innocents in the name of saving them from Saddam. Do you think it makes a difference to God if Saddam killed them on purpose or we Americans killed them in the War on Terror? WWJD?

I know a percentage of the dead are insurgents, but it's undeniable that many, and maybe a majority, of the Iraqi dead are not combatants. WWJD?

I think you good folks were so sure of your righteousness that you began to excuse the dead American kids, as well as the dead Iraqi kids, as acceptable in spite of the lies from 'Team Bush' that caused the deaths. WWJD?

You need to stop praying for others and start praying for yourselves. In fact, pray less and think more in the future before voting. WWJD?

--Chris Morris