US fast food chain Taco Bell, a division of Yum! Brands, has agreed a deal with the Florida-based farmworkers' organization, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, to improve the wages and working conditions of farmworkers in the Florida tomato industry.

Taco Bell has announced that it will pay an extra cent per pound to its suppliers of Florida tomatoes, and will undertake joint efforts with the CIW on several fronts to improve working conditions in Florida's tomato fields. For its part, the CIW has agreed to end its three-year boycott of Taco Bell, saying that the agreement "sets a new standard of social responsibility for the fast-food industry."

"As an industry leader, we are pleased to lend our support to and work with the CIW to improve working and pay conditions for farmworkers in the Florida tomato fields," said Emil Brolick, Taco Bell president. "We recognize that Florida tomato workers do not enjoy the same rights and conditions as employees in other industries, and there is a need for reform. We have indicated that any solution must be industry-wide, as our company simply does not have the clout alone to solve the issues raised by the CIW, but we are willing to play a leadership role within our industry to be part of the solution," Brolick added.

Taco Bell has recently secured an agreement with several of its tomato-grower suppliers, who employ the farmworkers, to pass-through the company-funded equivalent of one-cent per pound directly to the workers.

"With this agreement, we will be the first in our industry to directly help improve farmworkers' wages," added Brolick, "and we pledge to make this commitment real by buying only from Florida growers who pass this penny per pound payment entirely on to the farmworkers, and by working jointly with the CIW and our suppliers to monitor the pass-through for compliance. We hope others in the restaurant industry and supermarket retail trade will follow our leadership." Yum! Brands and Taco Bell will also work with the CIW to help ensure that Florida tomato pickers enjoy working terms and conditions similar to those that workers in other industries enjoy.

"We are challenging our tomato suppliers to meet those higher standards and will seek to do business with those who do," said Jonathan Blum, senior vice president, Yum! Brands.

"This is an important victory for farmworkers, one that establishes a new standard of social responsibility for the fast-food industry and makes an immediate material change in the lives of workers. This sends a clear challenge to other industry leaders," said Lucas Benitez, a leader of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

"Systemic change to ensure human rights for farmworkers is long-overdue. Taco Bell has now taken an important leadership role by securing the penny per pound pass-through from its tomato suppliers, and by the other efforts it has committed to undertake to help win equal rights for farmworkers," Benitez said.

"We now call on the National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights and other organizations to join the CIW and end their boycott of Taco Bell, and to recognize the Company by supporting its ongoing leadership in our fight against human rights abuses," he said. "Now we must convince other companies that they have the power to change the way they do business and the way workers are treated."

Representatives from the Carter Center assisted the discussions and resolution between the two organizations. "I commend the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for their principled leadership in this very important campaign. I am pleased Taco Bell has taken a leadership role to help reform working conditions for Florida farmworkers and has committed to use its power to effect positive human rights change. I now call on others in the industry to follow Taco Bell's lead to help the tomato farmworkers," said former US President Jimmy Carter.