The National Council of Churches' General Assembly has endorsed consumer boycotts of Taco Bell and Mt. Olive Pickle products, both effective immediately, to put pressure for improvement of wages and working conditions of their suppliers' farm workers.
The NCC is the largest and broadest U.S. religious body to join the growing boycotts, measures previously endorsed by the UCC. The NCC's actions came during the Nov. 4-6 annual meeting of the NCC's General Assembly. It endorsed the Taco Bell boycott unanimously, with five abstentions, and the Mt. Olive Pickle boycott with two abstentions.
Given its historical insistence that boycotts should be a measure of last resort, the NCC's support is especially significant. It has been more than 15 years since the NCC endorsed a consumer boycott of Royal Dutch/Shell Oil, as part of the global movement to overcome the racist apartheid policies in South Africa.
The Rev. Lydia Veliko, the UCC's ecumenical officer, brought forward the Mt. Olive resolution on behalf of the NCC Executive Board.
Virginia Nesmith, executive director of the National Farm Worker Ministry, spoke to the assembly, saying, "Casting our option with the poor is our best action as people of faith. It's heartening to me to see two farm worker situations raised up at this particular assembly. The people who stoop for tomatoes and cucumbers, climb for the apples and peaches, support our huge agribusiness and put food on our tables, they ask us not for charity but solidarity."
In March 1999, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), a union representing farm workers, announced a consumer boycott of the products of Mt. Olive Pickle Company, based in Mt. Olive, N.C., the nation's second largest processor of pickles and pickle products. The boycott followed unsuccessful attempts to bring the management of Mt. Olive to the table to negotiate improved wages and working conditions for farm workers who produce the cucumbers processed by Mt. Olive.
Similarly, in 2000, the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) called a consumer boycott of Taco Bell. Workers and supporters are asking for better wages for tomato pickers employed by the SixL's Packaging Company, a major Taco Bell supplier. Workers are paid 40 cents for every 32-pound bucket they pick, the same piece rate paid in 1978. They must pick and haul two tons of tomatoes to earn $50 in a day. CIW is asking Taco Bell to pay an additional penny per pound, which would essentially double the piece rate. Taco Bell, which reports annual sales of over $5 billion, refuses to negotiate with the tomato pickers.
The UCC General Synod was the first major religious group to endorse the boycotts - Mt. Olive Pickles in 1999 and Taco Bell in 2001. Since that time, the Alliance of Baptists has endorsed the Mt. Olive action, while the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) are supporting the Taco Bell effort. Each campaign has grown to include support from hundreds of community, campus and religious organizations.