BURLINGTON (Vermont) FREE PRESS

October 3, 2017

 

Ben & Jerry's agrees to Milk with Dignity campaign

 

By Dan A’Ambrosio

 

After at least two years of discussions and several protests, leadership of the Ben and Jerry's company and advocates for migrant dairy workers said they are on the same page.

 

The CEO of Ben & Jerry's signed on to the Milk with Dignity program Tuesday afternoon in front of the scoop shop on Burlington's Church Street, two years after dairy workers say the company agreed to participate in the program advocating for their rights, "This is a program that gives the workers a seat at the table, that provides dignity and a real voice," CEO Jostein Solheim said.

 

The program was created by Migrant Justice, a Burlington nonprofit advocating for migrant farm workers. Participation will give farmers a "committed team" to solve any issues or problems, Solheim said. Ben & Jerry's will also provide a financial incentive for farmers to participate in the Milk with Dignity program. Solheim declined to specify how much the premium would be, saying it was confidential.

 

"So this is really the definition of a win-win program," Solheim said. "We've done a lot of work to get it right."

 

Major tenets of the Milk with Dignity Code of Conduct include zero tolerance for forced labor, child labor, the threat or use of sexual or physical assault or retaliation against workers for advocating for changes, or participating in the Milk with Dignity program.

 

The program also commits participating farms to paying workers at least the prevailing minimum wage.

Migrant Justice has staged several protests against Ben & Jerry's to urge the company to sign an agreement to launch the Milk with Dignity program. In June, Victor Diaz, a Mexican immigrant working on a farm in Vergennes said workers could wait no longer for Ben & Jerry's to act.

 

"We are going to pressure them and see what happens," Diaz said.

 

The protests chants were replaced Tuesday as gathered farm workers cheered the signing ceremony with chants of "Si se puede!" (Yes we can!)

 

Thelma Gomez, president of the farmworker coordinating committee at Migrant Justice, said it was a "great day for us."

 

"We are very happy to be celebrating today this first step of Ben & Jerry's and dairy workers coming together to ensure respect for human rights in the dairy industry," Gomez said. 

 

Gomez said she  wanted to express how important the agreement is to ensuring female farm workers' rights. 

 

After the signing, Gomez said there are many dairy farms where workers make less than the minimum wage, and are living in housing "not fit for human habitation." She said there are 1,500 to 2,000 dairy workers in Vermont, but that the agreement only covers those working for farms that supply Ben & Jerry's, numbering in the "hundreds" of workers.

 

Enrique Balcazar, a former dairy worker and farmworker organizer, called the agreement a "historic moment." 

 

"Ben & Jerry's and dairy workers are coming together to ensure human rights for dairy farm workers in the dairy supply chain," Balcazar said. "This is what we're calling a new day in dairy, a new day for the human rights of farm workers."