Chipotle CEO Steve Ells

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A group of University of Colorado students and alumni are planning a pre-graduation protest Friday in hopes of stirring the sustainable food movement among campus administrators.

Student groups interested in sustainable foods, farming and human rights, are irked at graduation speaker, Steve Ells, Chipotle CEO and CU alumnus, for refusing to join the “Campaign for Fair Foods” — a national movement for the fair treatment and monetary rights of farm laborers.

Students and alumni will protest before graduation by wearing red armbands as a show of solidarity during the ceremony, so as not to interrupt commencement.

While it is too late to ask the council to switch speakers, leaders of the movement said they’re hoping to stir interest from administrators and regents in improving the campus’s food practices.

Student leaders took the issue to the Senior Class Council, a group who chooses the graduation speaker. Council President Katherine Pedroza said concessions were made for the unhappy students.

“They’re allowed to protest outside commencement and have their voices heard,” Pedroza said.

The upcoming Council is already working to improve the process of deciding on a graduation speaker for 2012, which will include more student involvement, Pedroza said.

“They are making some changes, but the details are still being worked out,” Pedroza said. “We included the senior class this year in our decision and we do feel Ells is still a good choice.”

Pedroza said student surveys concluded that seniors wanted someone who ran a successful business that was built from the ground up. Ells fit that profile, she said.

Demonstrators are asking the campus community to sign a petition this week that implores regents, the chancellor, UMC Food Services and Housing and Dining Departments to “take proactive steps to ensure the integrity of its own food supply,” the petition states.

“We want to use this opportunity to tell administrators that we, as students, care where our food comes from and how the farm workers are treated,” said Dan Omasta, sustainability director for CU Student Government. “We do not approve of what Chipotle is doing and we want to make sure consumers know what they’re supporting.”

Chris Arnold, spokesman for Chipotle, said the company “does not feel it is necessary” to sign a contract under the Fair Foods Campaign “to do the right thing.”

“We believe there’s more than one way to resolve the issue,” Arnold said. “We started down this path of better ingredients and more sustainable practices and we’ve accomplished more in that regard then any other restaurant.”

Arnold said Ells was not available for comment.

CU alumni Patrick Kelsall, member of the Denver Fair Foods Committee, said CU students have been fighting Chipotle on this topic since 2006.

During Kelsall’s time at CU, he said students and locals protested outside local Chipotle stores and at the headquarters in Denver to encourage the company to join the efforts. Kelsall and other alumni will be protesting Friday.

CU junior Astrid Diego, member of the Mecha and United Mexican-American Students, said Chipotle’s good intentions are not enough for concerned students.

“Chipotle is taking advantage of undocumented workers and Steve Ells represents that,” Diego said.

The student group leaders said they do not intend to interrupt graduation, but have heard talk that some students might try to make a stand during Ells’ speech Friday.

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