WASHINGTON - April 21 - On Sunday evening, April 18th, 26 Notre Dame students began a three-day hunger strike in response to their administration's failure to issue a public statement that it will not enter into nor renew contacts with Taco Bell and lack of a plan to increase Fair Trade Coffee. These students are actually the second wave of the hunger strike begun by 21 of their colleagues, who did not eat from last Tuesday evening (April 13) to Friday evening (April 16). Over 140 students are fasting, including 2-day and 1-day fasters, as part of a nationwide phenomenon of hunger strikes at Universities that refuse to honor the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' (CIW) nationwide boycott of Taco Bell.
Taco Bell is the subject of this boycott by the CIW, a Florida-based organization of farmworkers, because it refuses to take responsibility for the exploitation and poverty in the tomato fields from which it profits. As Notre Dame sophomore and faster Alicia Lachiondo says, "If they aren't going to take responsibility, we are." The Notre Dame Hunger Strike continues to attract new students and strikers are dividing their time between an outdoor Hunger Strike Headquarters and visits to the Office of the President.
After finding out about a Notre Dame Athletic Department contract with Taco Bell this past fall, students began meeting with Administrators asking them to cut this contract or make a statement that Notre Dame would not enter into more contracts with Taco Bell. The Administration agreed to evaluate its relationship with Taco Bell and wrote a letter to Taco Bell requesting its position, but delayed further action. A visit by 30 students to the Office of the President Wednesday morning to inform them of the Hunger Strike resulted in claims from the Administration that they were awaiting a response from Taco Bell and subsequent phone calls by the General Counsel to the parent company of Taco Bell to get that response. In a meeting that took place Monday afternoon, students were told a response would come from the Administration on Tuesday, April 20, but students have heard nothing yet.
The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, Oxfam America, and Catholic Bishop Nevins from the area where Taco Bell's tomatoes are picked have all contacted the University urging an end to contracts with Taco Bell.
Students are also asking for Fair Trade Coffee to be served in the Dining Halls as it is currently only available in cafes on campus. Fair Trade Coffee, certified by the Fair Trade Labeling Organization, and purchased from democratic cooperatives of coffee farmers from all over the world, ensures that farmers receive a fair price. 3-day hunger striker and junior Melody Gonzalez says, "Notre Dame is now in a position where it can set an example to other universities, that not only does it preach to and teach its students about social justice, but also actively participates in the fight for justice."
The student pressure is working; progress is being made with the Fair Trade issue as Notre Dame Food Services is now conducting a price analysis of Fair Trade coffee.
"Boot the Bell" Hunger Strikes spread to other Universities following a weeklong fast by Notre Dame freshman Tony Rivas three weeks ago. Strikes have since been declared at Grand Valley State University, Central Michigan University, and the University of Florida. Rivas, who plans to fast again, says, "We just want to see the University take responsibility for their actions." Nineteen schools and universities nationwide have kicked Taco Bells off their campuses or refused its entrance because of the boycott.