What to Know
- The worker-led Milk with Dignity initiative through the group Migrant Justice is helping Ben & Jerry's improve working conditions.
- Ben & Jerry’s say 72 dairy farms in its Northeast supply chain have enrolled in the Milk with Dignity program since February.
- The new program conducts audits on farms, offers education sessions, and manages a support hotline for farm workers.
A new push to improve labor conditions for several hundred migrant farm workers in Vermont now has advocates hoping the concept will expand to more farms around the Northeast and across the country.
The worker-led Milk with Dignity initiative through the group Migrant Justice sees the Vermont-based ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s paying a premium to farmers who agree to improve human rights conditions for their migrant laborers.
Many of the estimated 1,500 migrant laborers on Vermont dairy farms are in the U.S. without government permission but are widely regarded as playing a critical role in feeding consumers around the nation through their agricultural work.
Improvements to working conditions are designed to come from a variety of changes on the farm, including days off, higher wages, better housing, and stricter guidelines for workplace safety.
“The program is already starting to see some tangible improvements in additional protections in those areas,” said Tom Fritzsche of the Milk with Dignity Standards Council.
Ben & Jerry’s said Wednesday that 72 dairy farms in its Northeast supply chain have enrolled in the Milk with Dignity program since February, representing all the company’s dairy volume needs.
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The new program also conducts audits on farms, offers education sessions, and manages a support hotline for farmworkers to give them a greater voice.
More than 300 farm workers and farmers have taken part in education sessions so far, organizers said.
Ben & Jerry’s said the concept is in the company DNA because it often stands up for human rights causes.
“We’ve really been striving to help this program be more mainstream—making it a lower hurdle for other companies to adopt will start to lift the fleet,” said Cheryl Pinto of Ben & Jerry’s. “This was really, again, about lifting human rights for all.”
While Ben & Jerry’s has long embraced progressive causes, this new focus on migrant workers’ rights does come at a time of great uncertainty and unease over federal immigration policies.
“The current political climate has, in some ways, opened a door for us, because we know immigrant workers do work in many industries—many agriculture industries, including the dairy industry,” Enrique Balcazar of Migrant Justice told necn through an interpreter. “And the difficulties of the political situation have made it even more important to say that on every dairy farm, workers should be treated equally and everybody should have their human rights respected.”
The advocates for migrant farm workers said after the early success with Ben & Jerry’s, they’ve heard from other nationally-known brands interested in possibly implementing the Milk with Dignity program in their supply chains.