Taco Bell Boycott

The first fast food boycott

When the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) launched a boycott of fast-food chain Taco Bell in 2001, NFWM and its regional affiliates quickly signed on to support the work.

Because Taco Bell’s headquarters are in Orange County, California, Orange County Interfaith Committee to Aid Farmworkers (OCIC) was actively engaged in supporting the campaign on the ground. “Pastors signed letters of support [that we delivered to their headquarters] but Taco Bell refused to unlock the door to accept the letter so we had to slide them under the door,” recalls Suzanne Darweesh, Chair of OCIC. “The farm workers would visit every winter and spring [during the] off-season [to join the protests] and two local Presbyterian churches hosted them. The workers even slept outdoors one year in front of Taco Bell headquarters (the Irvine police made them remove their tents; it rained and several workers got sick).” 

The workers, who were tomato pickers, were asking for a penny-a-pound wage increase, doubling wages on most farms.

According to former NFWM Executive Director Virginia Nesmith, the Presbyterian Church (USA) was highly engaged because both they and Yum! Brands, Taco Bell’s parent company and one of the largest fast food companies in the world, are based in Louisville, KY. NFWM worked with the PC (USA) to endorse the boycott and eventually the PC (USA) hired Rev. Noelle Damico, a United Church of Christ pastor, to support the campaign

Noelle not only organized marches, prayer vigils and all kinds of worship services, but she also contacted ministers from all over the country,” remembers Suzanne. 

The boycott began in April 2001 and lasted until March 2005. In addition to agreeing to the one-penny-per-pound wage increase, Taco Bell also agreed to introduce a code of conduct for its growers to ensure “more humane labor standards” according to reporting of the agreement in The Guardian. In 2007, Yum! Brands extended the agreement to its 5 other brands: KFC, Pizza Hut, Long John Silvers, and A&W Restaurants.

The campaign started with Taco Bell, and later expanded to other fast food restaurants and grocery stores. “It took several years but eventually Taco Bell signed, as did McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, Bon Appetite, and some large catering corporations. Of the major fast food chains, only Wendy’s has not signed,” reflected Suzanne.

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