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Penn Students protest Aramark HQ as part of Fair Food Fridays, a campaign led by the Student/Farmworker Alliance Credit: Jared Dubin

“Up, up with the fair food nation, down, down with the exploitation.”

This is the chant that could be heard outside the Aramark headquarters building at 11th and Market streets last Friday. Several Penn students sporting posters and fliers stood outside the building to protest Aramark’s refusal to sign an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW).

The protest will be repeated today and every subsequent Friday as part of “Fair Food Fridays.” This semester, Penn’s Student Labor Action Project has added its voice to the campaign, which is organized by the Student/Farmworker Alliance and CIW.

The campaign, which originated in 2001, centers around human-rights issues with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. The epicenter of the issue is Immokalee, Fla., where, according to the Coalition, farm workers contend with unfair wages and human rights violations.

College junior and SLAP member Rose Espinola said the campaign is working to get companies that purchase tomatoes sign an agreement with Immokalee workers.

According to Marc Rodrigues of the Student/Farmworker Alliance, the agreement calls for two main points.

The first is asking companies for an additional penny for each pound of tomatoes purchased. The second is designing a code of conduct that will protect workers’ rights. The agreement is contingent on workers being included in implementing and enforcing this code.

So far the campaign succeeded with several other companies. McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Burger King have all signed the agreement, as has the food provider of Penn Dining, Bon Appetit. Aramark served as Penn’s food service provider until last year.

Aramark spokeswoman Karen Cutler wrote in an e-mail that the company has been “in active discussions with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for some time.” She also said the corporation has agreed to pay the “penny per pound” premium.

However, Rodrigues said only a couple of preliminary discussions have taken place between Aramark and CIW, and they haven’t led anywhere.

He cited the Student/Farmworker Alliance website, which states that “there currently exists no commitment, even in principle, on the part of Aramark to work together with the CIW and farmworkers.”

“We’ve had experience with corporations in the past leading us and leading us along and not doing anything,” Rodrigues said.

At first, turnout to last Friday’s protest was low — consisting of three Penn students and Casey Chanton, a Philadelphia resident who volunteers for Student/Farmworker Alliance.

However, they were soon joined by Lower Merion High School sophomore Ben Barsh and junior Coulter Crooks. The two were in Philadelphia for a concert, and upon hearing about the protest, decided to help hand out fliers.

Barsh said he knew about farmworker exploitation in general, though he had never heard of this particular issue.

The high-school students weren’t the only passersby to get involved.

Steve Jackson, a health educator who lives in Philadelphia, also added his voice to the chanting last week.

Jackson, who recently graduated from the University of Maryland, said he worked on two farms in California. He said conditions were fine on the first farm, but that his experience on the second farm showed him firsthand the sort of conditions workers could be exposed to, citing squalid, overcrowded living conditions and low pay.

Laura Price, who works in real estate, also stopped at the protest after leaving work.

“More people should do it,” she said, referring to the protest. She said she would join the Fair Food Fridays in the coming weeks.

College junior Marshall Bright said she was glad to participate in the protest.

“Human rights seem uncontroversial,” she said. “That’s why I felt comfortable getting involved.”

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