Chipotle Exploits Farm Workers ~via Patrick Kelsall [Modern Slavery, Conscious Consumerism, Campaign for Fair Trade Food]

get elephant's newsletter

Photo from Laura Martinez. The below letter is by Patrick Kelsall. elephant journal welcomes any and all comment from those who may feel the entire picture is not fairly-represented—after all, the below is simply about fairness!

Apparently the integrity in Chipotle Mexican Grill’s “Food with Integrity” doesn’t seem to extend beyond their slick branding. The Denver-based company [which elephant has loved in the past for promoting free-range pork, using organic rice ~ed.] is refusing to take proactive steps to address a human-rights crisis in the tomato fields of Florida. The people who harvest the tomatoes that end up in Chipotle’s burritos are enduring unacceptable conditions. Farm workers receive around 45 cents for every 42-pound bucket they fill, the same piece-rate as in the 1970’s (!). This means a farmworker has to pick around two tons of tomatoes a day to earn $50, and receives an annual pay of around $10,000. You try it.

This is if the workers get paid at all. Modern-day slavery, in the word’s truest sense, is not uncommon in Florida. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a grassroots farm worker organization out of Immokalee, Florida, has exposed and prosecuted seven cases of slavery in the state since 1997. Over 1,000 people have been liberated from slavery due largely to the CIW’s efforts.

The over 2,500 farm workers that are the CIW have proposed a brilliant solution to systemically addressing the crisis: companies that purchase tomatoes in bulk (like Chipotle) pay only one penny more per pound for those tomatoes, which will go directly to the farm workers. In addition, the company signs a code of conduct that includes cooperating with farm workers to eliminate exploitation and slavery. After all, who better to address the situation in the fields than the farm workers themselves?

After two years of requesting these simple steps from Chipotle, the farm workers are still waiting by the phone. Are these unreasonable, unfeasable requests? Not according to McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, Whole Foods and now Subway—which have all taken these steps.

With little-to-no integrity, in my opinion, Chipotle has responded with a myriad of excuses. First it was “We will look into it,” and now two years later nothing substantial has come from Chipotle’s “research” into these well-documented issues. Then it became “We stopped buying tomatoes from Florida”—a good step that nevertheless misses the point. Farm workers are exploited everywhere. Instead of working with the CIW to address the problem’s roots, Chipotle now says: “We are paying the penny more, but we won’t sign any agreement…that is not how Chipotle does business.” At first this sounds laudatory, and on some level it is. But on second glance it’s clear that Chipotle has avoided the second half of the CIW’s requests: a place for farm workers at the table to address conditions in the fields. Chipotle has managed to look good for the public while dictating terms with the CIW, excluding farm workers from what they have been asking for along: a company receptive to their voice.

All of these excuses are inadequate and a slap in the face to farm workers and consumers alike. When I think of integrity, I think of responsibility, trust, and respect. I don’t think of the characteristics that Chipotle has exhibited; manipulation, injustice and avoidance. Don’t be fooled by Chipotle’s “Food with Integrity” image of organic produce and free-range meat. Wait for them to walk the talk all the way—and once they do become their number one supporter and advocate. Until then, stand on the side of farm workers and justice.

For more information on the campaign for Fair Food: and
By Patrick Kelsall, a student at the University of Colorado Boulder and a national steering committee member of the Student/Farmworker Alliance (

is a new feature on Elephant Journal—enabling you to instantly share your mindful ideas, photos, art, YouTube videos/Instagram links & writings with our 5 million readers. Try it Now.

Write Now


18 Responses to “Chipotle Exploits Farm Workers ~via Patrick Kelsall [Modern Slavery, Conscious Consumerism, Campaign for Fair Trade Food]”

  1. elephant says:

    Mark Hussein Montalbano Today at 10:58am
    Hmmm…I wonder how long that’s been going on. They are McDonald’s afterall.

    Waylon Hussein Lewis Today at 11:36am
    They’re not, actually, they bought back the 25% that McDonald’s had bought. And, as the article says, Mickey D’s is actually in agreement with the farmers, unlike Chipotle.

  2. elephant says:

    Henry DeMaio Today at 2:24pm
    The only positive thing I have to say about Chipotle is that they serve beer.

  3. Derrrick Wrangle says:


    why would chipotle not do this when even McDonald’s and Burger King have?

    i thought chipotle was setting the example of a conscious corporation but now…

  4. Derrrick Wrangle says:

    i just did alittle bit more looking into this and found an interesting facebook group called “Chipotle STILL Exploits Farmworkers”…looks like it was started by the same person who wrote the article too…

  5. Buck says:

    7 slavery cases in Florida agriculture in the last decade is 7 too many. I would expect Chipotle to immediately sign an agreement to ensure these abuses are not taking place. What´s the hold up?

    Food with Integrity?????

  6. Jack M says:

    Marketing schemes can be so wonderfully absurd– Chipotle is throwing around the word “integrity” like crazy, but then can’t even keep up with a notorious corporate monster like McDonald’s on basic farmworker rights. Aren’t there laws about false advertising?

  7. Sean Daly says:

    Shame on Chipotle, how many years will it take to get them on board? I think we’re on at least three years so far.

  8. Andrew says:

    Fight for farm worker rights!
    Cheapotle workers deserve better.

  9. Robin says:

    Here’s a great (or rather terrible) quote from the founder and CEO of Chipotle Steve Ells: “We decided long ago that we didn’t want Chipotle’s success to be tied to the exploitation of animals, farmers, or the environment.”

    What’s missing? farmworkers!

    Sorry, Steve, if you want your business to be truly sustainable, it can benefit from a system of labor exploitation.

  10. k8 says:

    Solidarity with the wokers of CIW! I’ll keep passing on the word about the Chipotle campaign for as long as we need to.

  11. really? says:

    All companies (even eco-friendly) subcontract labor out to other organizations, which can break the rules.

    Are all these same people boycotting Whole Foods and marching in Austin? Seems they work with the same people.

    Something to think about.

  12. Patrick says:

    yeah, we did march in austin…and whole foods signed on.

    we have marched in denver…and chipotle hasn’t signed on. something to think about.

  13. Robert says:

    In response to “really?”‘s comment:

    First off there is not currently nor ever was a boycott of Whole Foods; Whole Foods has (unlike Chipotle) already agreed to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to improve wages and working conditions and with only minimal pressure from the farmworkers and concerned consumers.

    And yes the same groups that asked Whole Foods to do the right thing for Florida farmworkers are the same groups asking Chipotle to do the same.

    You say: “All companies (even eco-friendly) subcontract labor out to other organizations, which can break the rules.”
    Are you implying that companies shouldn’t take responsibility for the unethical behavior of organizations they subcontract with or purchase from?

    If you are, then you disagree with not just us but with Chipotle. According to Chipotle’s website ( its “food with integrity” philosophy is “that we can always do better in terms of the food we buy.” It has led them “to push for more sustainable practices in produce farming, and to work with dairy suppliers to eliminate the use of added hormones from their operations.” It “means working back along the food chain. It means going beyond distributors to discover how the vegetables are grown, how the pigs, cows and chickens are raised” and using their size to help “influence the decisions of our suppliers.”

    Chipotle is the ultimate beneficiary of the cheap tomatoes produced by exploited workers. And Chipotle’s demand for the cheapest tomates which generates the greatest profits fuels the sweatshop conditions farmworkers experience.

    So the simple question is if Chipotle can use it’s influence to eliminate the use of horomones in its dairy suppliers opperations why can’t it use its influence to help eliminate slavery in it’s tomato suppliers operations?

  14. Derrrick Wrangle says:

    oh snap. “really?” has just been HAD!

  15. […] days to talk about “toxic workplaces.”  This typically means a place of employment that has backstabbing or neurotic co-workers, or a corporate culture that sacrifices human well being at the altar of the […]

  16. dave no justice says:

    boycot chipolte they are anti second amendment boo hoo on chipolte ill keep my money and not spend it in there

  17. Catherine says:

    My big problem with this whole thing is that these underpaid farmworkers should be paid correctly and DIRECTLY FROM THE ORGANIZATION WHO HIRES THEM!

    What do I do when i find a company is not acting ethically? I simply do not buy their product even if I have to pay more money for an ethically produced version.

    If Whole Foods, etc. are willing to pay more for their tomatoes, then why can't the organization hiring the farmworkes simply pay their workers more and charge more for the tomatoes? Why, with all the clout these large corporations have, they can't just say, "no pay farmworkers, no buy your tomatoes"?

    It just seems like going around the hiring organization or corporation is simply enabling them to continue in their exploitation of farmworkers. They just shrug their collective shoulders and say, "Fine. I'll just continue on as I have since I am not personally being held accountable because Whole Foods, etc. are going to pay money directly to the workers."

    And I don't give a damn what McDonald's or Burger King are doing when the food they are producing is so horrifically bad for human consumption! it may be a step in the right direction but their making sure farmworkers get more pay will not cause me to go to their restaurants.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.