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Taco Bell Strikers Get RFK Humanitarian Award

by more rational Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2003 at 8:11 PM

I'm reposting this press release from the CIW. The organizers of the strike, who started out as field workers, got a big award!

The CIW is proud to announce that three of our members -- Julia Gabriel,

Lucas Benitez, and Romeo Ramirez -- have been chosen as the 2003

winners of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.

Ms. Gabriel, Mr. Benitez, and Mr. Ramirez were chosen for this prestigious

award in recognition of their extraordinary work fighting modern-day slavery

and their leadership of the national Taco Bell boycott. In the words of the RFK

Center for Human Rights, through their work, "they have shown the

connection between the plight faced by migrant farmworkers in the US and

the universal struggle for human rights that is going on all over the world."

The award ceremony will be held on November 20th in Washington at the

Russell Senate Office Building. The award will be presented by Mrs. Ethel

Kennedy, widow of Robert F. Kennedy.

Here below is the RFK Memorial Center for Human Right's Press Release

announcing the award:

Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights

For Immediate Release

Oct. 15, 2003

Modern Day Slavery in the United States:

Immokalee Workers Fight Slavery and Protect Human Rights of Farmworkers

Washington, DC - The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial (RFK) Center for Human

Rights (CHR) has selected Julia Gabriel, Lucas Benitez, and Romeo

Ramirez, three leaders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), to

receive the prestigious 2003 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.

Through their work, Ms. Gabriel, Mr. Benitez, and Mr. Ramirez have helped

liberate over a thousand workers held against their will by employers using

violence -- beatings, pistol whippings, and shootings -- and the threat of

violence. Ms. Gabriel herself is a former captive worker who escaped form a

400-worker slavery ring that operated in the fields of South Carolina and

Florida. With the assistance of the CIW, Ms. Gabriel successfully helped

prosecute and put her employer behind bars.

"The work of these incredible human rights defenders is pivotal in this day

and era as it uncovers the ugly truth that modern-day slavery exists in the

United States," said Todd Howland, Director of the Robert F. Kennedy

Memorial Center for Human Rights. "The practice of slavery has been

condemned by the international community and the practice has been

criminalized in the US, but it still persists in parts of the U.S. agricultural


The new RFK Human Rights Award laureates are all migrant workers who

have become leaders in the fight to end forced labor practices and sub-

poverty wages in fields across the U.S. They are eaders in the national

boycott of Taco Bell, a campaign aimed at forcing the fast-food giant to clean

up human rights abuses in its supply chain.

"These activists for freedom are fighting for the human rights of thousands of

agricultural workers. With great courage, they are doing extraordinary work in

the field of economic and social rights as their coalition exposes modern-day

slavery practices that are sdly still occuring in the U.S. They have shown the

connection between the plight faced by migrant farmworkers in the U.S. and

the universal struggle for human rights that is going on all over the world, "

said John Shattuck, CEO of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and a

2003 RFK HRA judge.

Every day, through grossly-exploitative wages, the human rights of the

Immokalee farmworkers are violated. Thus, their struggle should serve as a

wake up call to encourage all Americans and the world community to join in

solidarity to end slave labor practices and exploitative wages in the world's

wealthiest nation, the United States. In order to resolve this crisis, labor

practices must be modernized and must require the expansion of the

application of labor laws to all farmworkers.

The RFK Memorial will hold its annual award ceremony on November 20,

2003, Robert F. Kennedy's birthday. The ceremony will be hosted by U.S.

Senator Edward Kennedy, and the award will be presented by Mrs. Robert F.

Kennedy, widow of RFK. The ceremony will be held in Room 325 of the

Russell Senate Building and will be followed by a press conference. Other

activities will include the launch of a high-profile direct action campaign

against the Taco Bell corporation (TBC), including a protest at the

Washington, D.C., locations of Yum! Brands' subsidiary company, Taco Bell,

unless it changes practices and supports livable wages for all farmworkers.

The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award was established in 1984 to

honor creative individuals who are, often at great personal risk, engaged in

strategic and nonviolent efforts to overcome serious human rights violations.

Presented annually, the Award reflects Robert Kennedy's opposition to

tyranny and his belief in the power of individual moral courage to overcome

injustice. A panel of five independent judges selects the annual honoree,

who receives a cash prize of ,000. The Center for Human Rights

becomes a partner in working toward the realization of the new laureates'

social change goals. Today, there are 34 RFK Laureates from 20 countries.

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