What’s the connection between spicy chicken nuggets, tomato-farming labor organizing and virtue-signaling celebrities? A whole lot of social media posts and not a single bit of change.
I’m not a huge Wendy’s guy, so I can’t vouch for the deliciousness of the aforementioned spicy chicken nuggets. However, the chain made a promise that it would bring back the menu item if the tweet got 2 million Twitter likes, after hip-hop star Chance the Rapper made hopes for the nuggets’ return a daily affirmation. (I like Chance, but I don’t get it, either.)
Y’all keep asking, so here’s your chance.
The people in charge say if you guys can get our tweet (this one right here) to 2 Million likes, they will bring SPICY CHICKEN NUGGETS BACK.
Let’s freakin’ do this! https://t.co/qrtvWXjj9V
— Wendy’s (@Wendys) May 4, 2019
And lo and behold:
THIS IS NOT A DRILL!
Spicy Chicken Nuggets are coming back! Y’all are crazy!
That took like a day and a half! WHAT?!
We don’t know when yet, gotta figure it out, but soon, and ok, LOSING IT RIGHT NOW THIS IS AMAZING!!
— Wendy’s (@Wendys) May 6, 2019
So, you have your spicy chicken nuggets. And Amy Schumer and Alyssa Milano have a beef (pun intended, I suppose) with Wendy’s.
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Hey! We love @chancetherapper and hate to be the ones to tell him that Wendys is the only fast food chain refusing to protect farmworker women from sexual assault and rape in the fields. This is true. Please read that sentence again. Message for the people in charge: Instead of spicy nuggets, we want food that is harvested with dignity NOT violence. Please join the @fairfoodprogram and #BoycottWendys link in my bio of how you can help. Also we are having a boy. ?
“Hey! We love @chancetherapper and hate to be the ones to tell him that Wendys is the only fast food chain refusing to protect farmworker women from sexual assault and rape in the fields,” Schumer wrote. “This is true. Please read that sentence again. Message for the people in charge: Instead of spicy nuggets, we want food that is harvested with dignity NOT violence. Please join the @fairfoodprogram and #BoycottWendys link in my bio of how you can help.”
So, here’s the controversy, which has nothing to do with nuggets and everything to do with tomatoes: Wendy’s hasn’t signed onto what’s known as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program, which The New York Times describes as “currently benefit[ing] about 35,000 laborers, primarily in Florida. Over the last decade, it has helped transform the state’s tomato industry from one in which wage theft and violence were rampant to an industry with some of the highest labor standards in American agriculture.”
Wendy’s hasn’t signed onto the plan as other chains like Burger King and McDonald’s have. That doesn’t mean, however, it’s “refusing to protect farmworker women from sexual assault and rape in the fields.”
“Heidi Schauer, a Wendy’s spokeswoman, said in an email that the company required its tomato suppliers to submit to third-party reviews of their human rights and labor practices. She said the chain had recently committed to buying all of its tomatoes from indoor greenhouse farms, most of them in the United States and Canada, which ‘strengthens our commitment to treat people with respect,'” The Times reported.
Wendy’s also has a list of expectations for its suppliers that provides explicit protections against exploitation.
“Suppliers are expected to provide a safe and healthy workplace in compliance with applicable local, state /provincial and federal laws and regulations,” one point reads. “Suppliers of certain fresh agricultural products harvested by hand or in an otherwise manually intensive way will be subject to third party human rights and labor practices reviews,” reads another. Other points include enforcement of labor norms, the ability to organize under a union and protections against harassment and discrimination.
Part of the issue, too, is the fact that the Fair Food Program covers field workers, not workers in hydroponic greenhouses — where Wendy’s sources its tomatoes.
“This is a complex issue, but be assured that we do not purchase the field grown product that the Fair Food Program covers. In fact, Wendy’s is proud to only purchase tomatoes from indoor hydroponic North American farms,” a statement from Wendy’s read, according to Fox Business.
“We are excited about the superior quality of these tomatoes, and this move further strengthens our commitment to responsible sourcing practices by providing safe, indoor working conditions, shelter from the elements and environmental contaminants, reduced water and land use burdens, and a significantly reduced need for chemical pesticides.”
The Times wasn’t buying this: “Several experts questioned the value of such reviews, which are often superficial, as well as the suggestion that greenhouse farms provide more humane work environments.”
The newspaper’s evidence for this is a letter sent to the Ohio State University student newspaper written by a Fordham University law professor who’s been a vocal advocate for the Fair Food Program. You may be able to describe him as an “expert” on the issue, but a better word may have been “activist.”
While I’m sure there are more critics of these reviews, this wasn’t an independent labor law professor evaluating Wendy’s statement and expectations of its suppliers and concluding that the fast-food giant been conducting only desultory oversight. It’s a partisan advocate who wants to pressure Wendy’s to sign onto the agreement.
Unsurprisingly, however, there were other Hollywood celebs willing to use the spicy chicken nuggets to bludgeon Wendy’s. Unsurprisingly, one of them was Alyssa Milano.
Alyssa Milano, labor expert.
You may have noticed what’s missing: Any accusations that Wendy’s knowingly uses suppliers that abuse their workers or that allow sexual assaults to occur. Not one accusation. Not one incident critics can pinpoint.
This has little to do with exploitation and everything to do with agitating for a specific labor program. It’s difficult to call these outright lies, but they’re certainly misleading.
And, for celebrities, it’s about virtue signaling. This is the cheapest form of publicity one can get: Moral indignation. About what? What have you got?
In short, it’s all talking points with little substance attached. Enjoy those nuggets, folks.
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