Chipotle Agrees to Raise Tomato Wages (Finally)

Last Updated Sep 10, 2009 12:36 PM EDT

After months of protests and scorn from workers' rights activists, Chipotle Mexican Grill has reached an agreement with East Coast Farms to pay an extra penny per pound for Florida tomatoes -- creating a 64 percent wage increase for farm workers.

Chipotle is known for its ethical and sustainable business practices; I've written before about its laudable approach to both local and organic sourcing. But activists have accused the chain of "Chipocrisy" for its failure to address the atrocious conditions of Florida farm workers despite the company's motto of "Food with Integrity."

The situation for some of these workers was so bad they had to be rescued by police. Their meager wages were eaten away by company charges for basics like food and showers, and in some cases, the workers were locked up at night. Over the past few years, McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell and Subway have all agreed to improve wages and conditions through negotiations with a Florida group called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers -- making Chipotle's failure to act even more shocking.

But Chipotle said it wanted to guarantee that the extra money actually made it into the pockets of the workers. For awhile it was putting an extra penny per pound in escrow until these issues could be resolved.

That didn't save it from being a target of criticism, and when Chipotle became a sponsor for the film Food Inc. this summer, that attracted even more pressure and negative attention. The director of the film, Robert Kenner, along with co-producer Eric Schlosser, had both signed a letter calling upon Chipotle to clean up its act on farm worker rights.

I have yet to see any response to the latest news from Chipotle's former critics -- the Coalition of Immokalee Workers website has news about East Coast Growers and Packers but makes no mention of Chipotle.

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  • Katherine Glover