Opinion

BK: Who is the one doing the exploiting?

I support student activism. I support students spending their Thursday afternoons standing up and protesting something that they believe in their hearts is wrong, and I would gladly stand up with them, wear their T-shirts and distribute petitions. What is being called “modern-day slavery” among the Florida migrant workers is, simply put, ridiculous, and there is no need to treat human beings like that.

I have made an attempt to catch up with the “Exploitation King” story by reading some local media reports. I’ve tried to avoid reading press directly on the Web sites of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE) and Burger King, because I like to think the media is going to be a little more objective in presenting the story to me so I can be able to draw my own conclusions.

But here is where you lose me. From what I have read in the slew of articles published in late 2007, I understand that Burger King declined to participate in the “penny-per-pound” agreement to which McDonald’s and Yum Brands (owner of Taco Bell) had already agreed. However, in a story I read from the Naples Daily News on Nov. 30, 2007, the vice president in charge of food safety and quality assurance for Burger King stated that he was unsure as to whether the increases would even make it to the workers’ pockets.

He also thought all the effort, not to mention all the money, being put into this “Exploitation King” campaign was a huge waste of resources that could be going directly to the workers.

I think he has a point.

I read another story on March 13, 2008, published on the official Web site for a Vermont senator, who had met with the CIW and held a press conference along with several other senators. They had previously met with the FTGE and stated they would support the workers. That article said the FTGE refused to consider any changes, both monetary and their living conditions.

The FTGE also said they would sue their member growers $100,000 if they agreed to the penny-per-pound program.

If I were involved in this, I would march myself down to the Growers Exchange, who are the ones that could change conditions and have refused, and hold my protest there. I would not waste my energy marching nine miles to the Burger King headquarters in Miami. Yes, they could pay a little more, but can Burger King executives drive down to the farms and stop the abuses? I don’t think they can do that. I think that’s up to the FTGE.

If I am wrong, tell me. If there is something I am missing, tell me. Like I said, I support our students, I support the workers’ rights and I am open to doing what I can to help the workers, but I would like to hit the root of the problem.

Ashley Davidson is a senior double majoring in journalism and studio art. She welcomes comments about her stance by emailing her at a.davidson2@umiami.edu.

April 21, 2008

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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.