Written by J. Bennett Guess
July - august 2003
Shareholders of YUM! Brands, Inc., the parent company of Taco Bell, sent a strong message to the company's board of directors on May 15. At the annual meeting, 39 percent voted for a resolution co-sponsored by the UCC calling for a review of the company's practices in relationship to contract suppliers.
The resolution's large number of votes, although shy of the majority needed for passage, was hailed as a significant victory for Florida farm workers.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been promoting a national boycott of Taco Bell restaurants and products due to the poverty wages and poor working conditions of those who pick tomatoes for suppliers used by the fast food chain. The UCC General Synod, as well as the Presbyterian Church (USA), have endorsed the boycott.
The resolution received the third highest number of votes for any social issue shareholder proposal introduced this year before a U.S. company. Generally, such resolutions tend to draw only single-digit levels of support, according to Edith Rasell, an economist who serves as the UCC's minister for labor relations and community economic development.
"Significant progress is being made," Rasell said. "The combination of both the shareholder campaign and the consumer boycott is the most effective way to bring justice to the Florida fields."
Through the stockholdings of the UCC's Pension Boards and the United Church Foundation, the UCC has been able to be an active player in the shareholder campaign to put pressure on Taco Bell's parent company.
Meanwhile, Justice and Witness Ministries continues to urge UCC individuals and congregations to promote the boycott in their local communities.
"We recognize that the justice struggle with this company is a longterm one, and we believe that by leveraging our voice and economic power, we can complement the UCC's other on-going advocacy strategies that seek to bring about change," said Amy Muska O'Brien, director of the UCC's Corporate Social Responsibility Ministry. "In response to the resolution's significant support, we plan to bring the company back to the table."
In early 2002, when the company seemed willing to engage in substantive dialogue over shareholder concerns, the UCC helped negotiate a withdrawal of a similar shareholder proposal. However, when the company failed to honor the agreement, the resolution was reintroduced in 2003.
To send a fax or e-mail to Taco Bell executives, visit the UCC's Take Action website at uccTakeAction.org.