Rights & Democracy Rallies for Milk with Dignity

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A 10-person delegation from Rights & Democracy joined Migrant Justice at the headquarters of ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry's to stand in solidarity with farm workers who are seeking human rights through the Milk with Dignity campaign.

After rallying with farm workers and members of Migrant Justice outside, the delegation walked inside and asked to meet with the company's CEO Jostein Solheim. The company's board of directors met for two days at Ben & Jerry's South Burlington headquarters, and were surprised by Migrant Justice and their allies with a two-day picket.

While Solheim wasn't available to talk to the RAD delegation, company spokesman Sean Greenwood did meet with the RAD delegation.

Here is the statement that RAD staffers Elise Greaves, Jeffrey Caesar, Adrian Burnett, and James Haslam read to Greenwood:

"We are representatives of Rights & Democracy, a grassroots organization with thousands of members in Vermont and New Hampshire.

Ben & Jerry's has a history of taking strong public positions in support of social and racial justice, and we are here today to call on the Board of Directors of Ben & Jerry's to respect the rights of farm workers and join the Milk With Dignity Program.

The time is long overdue for Ben & Jerry's to promote the human rights of the very farm workers who supply this iconic company with the milk it needs to make its ice cream."

In a brief conversation with Greenwood after reading the statement and providing him with copies, Caesar added: "Ben & Jerry's holds a unique position as a socially and environmentally responsible brand within Unilever. Ensuring fair labor standards to their farm workers sets a global precedent that other major corporations will take heed and follow."

During the two-day picket, many grassroots groups sent a delegation, including Vermont Workers' Center, Rural Vermont, Pride Center, Peace & Justice Center, Vermont Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals, and more.

A major community rally and March for Human Rights is planned for May 1 in Burlington.

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Since 2010, Vermont dairy worker members of Migrant Justice have been educating Ben & Jerry’s about serious human rights violations in its supply chain.

In 2014, VT farmworkers called on Ben & Jerry’s to join a new program, modeled after and designed with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program, to secure human rights for dairy workers. Only after public pressure, in June 2015, Ben & Jerry’s committed to “adopt Migrant Justice’s Milk with Dignity Program in its Northeast dairy supply chain.”

But two years have gone by and Ben & Jerry’s has still not signed onto or implemented the program. Dairy workers need our support to let Ben & Jerry’s know that we will not stand for further delays—human rights cannot wait and Ben & Jerry’s must fully join and implement the Milk with Dignity Program NOW!

Read RAD's statement on human rights and the current US immigration policies and practices.

Here is more info on Milk With Dignity campaign.

Here is a video about Milk With Dignity.

Here is a letter delivered last week as mass rallies across the country:

Dear Ben & Jerry’s Manager or Vendor:

As supporters of Migrant Justice’s Milk with Dignity Program, we ask you to stand with dairy workers and please urge Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim to join and implement the worker-led Milk with Dignity Program without further delay.

It’s been nearly two years since Ben & Jerry’s publicly committed to join and implement Milk with Dignity to advance the human rights of workers in Ben & Jerry’s Northeast dairy supply chain. During those two years, Ben & Jerry’s has prioritized cows (No RGBH or tail docking) and chickens (cage-free egg agreement with Humane Society) over the fundamental human rights of the farmworkers who put the cream in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

Farmworker members of Migrant Justice, a Vermont community-based organization, designed the Milk with Dignity Program to improve their abysmal working conditions. In June 2015, Ben & Jerry’s committed to join the Milk with Dignity Program and require its supplier farms to comply with worker-defined human rights standards in the Milk with Dignity Code of Conduct. Yet Ben & Jerry’s has still not signed the agreement necessary to actually implement Milk with Dignity in its supply chain. After nearly two years of talks with Migrant Justice, Ben & Jerry’s has been thoroughly informed about the reality of human rights abuses on farms that produce its milk and cream. Ben & Jerry’s must now show the resolve to stand up and proudly declare that it will source its milk in compliance with real, enforceable human rights standards. Ben & Jerry’s sources its milk from St. Albans Cooperative, which has some farms in New York State.

There have been 61 reported fatalities on New York dairy farms between 2006 and 2014, according to the New York State Department of Health. Dairy work is dangerous in Vermont, too; at least one worker has been killed on the job on a Vermont St. Albans Cooperative Farm in recent years. Common potentially fatal dangers OSHA has directly identified on dairy farms include “Being trampled, being struck by livestock, being struck by vehicles, backed over. People have fallen into and drowned in manure pits.”

In Vermont, according to a UVM study, “the 2010–2011 starting wage for Latino workers was $7.63 per hour—83.3 percent of the starting wage for other workers. The gap in 2012 wages is even larger.” The average hours worked for immigrant dairy workers is 68.8 hours per week, and the average for U.S. dairy workers is 55.5 hours per week. Taken together, these long hours and low wages often mean inadequate sleep, rest, and even food insecurity (dairy workers in Vermont are more food insecure than average Vermonters), creating a recipe for disaster in Ben & Jerry’s supply chain. The Milk with Dignity Program was designed to address this set of problems.

Dairy workers’ human rights in Ben & Jerry’s supply chain cannot be postponed a single day longer. Ben & Jerry’s should embrace and promote Milk with Dignity, not delay and avoid it. Ben & Jerry’s CEO cannot proudly advertise the company’s commitment to racial equity at the same time that he drags his heels on advancing dignity for workers in Ben and Jerry’s own dairy supply chain. Dairy workers have told him directly about being housed with leaky roofs and no bathroom in the Vermont winter, and never having 8 consecutive hours of sleep for years on end, due to inhumane scheduling practices.

Farmworkers have shared cases where thousands of dollars in wages were stolen or workers went without adequate heat in their housing through a cold Vermont winter. Furthermore, a recent incident of forced labor in the Idaho dairy industry certainly should inspire Ben & Jerry’s to protect its own supply chain without delay. And yet Ben & Jerry’s postpones progress with excuses when the solution is ready to launch: join and implement the Milk with Dignity Program. We can only measure Ben & Jerry’s commitment to social justice by actions. Thus far, Ben & Jerry’s actions prefer the illusion of “happy cows” to the reality of human rights.

The Milk with Dignity Program is a powerful tool to fight the systemic injustice, racism, and human rights crisis in the dairy supply chain. Milk with Dignity offers a holistic approach to workers’ rights that will work with farmers and farmworkers to achieve worker-defined human rights standards.

We stand with Migrant Justice and urge you to call on CEO Jostein Solheim to fully join and implement Migrant Justice’s worker led Milk with Dignity Program and make an unequivocal commitment to human rights in Ben & Jerry’s supply chain today.

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