ACTION ALERT: “We need Milk with Dignity!”

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Vermont dairy workers declare June 20th as national Day of Action, launch petition in support of brand-new Milk with Dignity Campaign!

Last week, we shared the exciting news — via an excellent article in the national hub for food movement news, Civil Eats — that Vermont dairy workers had created the Milk with Dignity Program and are calling on one of Vermont’s biggest milk buyers, Ben & Jerry’s, to support their worker-driven social responsibility plan.  Drawing on the CIW’s groundbreaking Fair Food Program, Milk with Dignity offers a concrete, enforceable solution to the dangerous working conditions, wage theft, poor housing, and other abuses that Vermont dairy workers say have plagued the industry for decades.

When Migrant Justice, the dairy workers’ organization, first launched their new initiative, they thought that ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s — renowned for its socially responsible business agenda, commitment to seeking fair trade ingredients, and great love of the state of Vermont — would welcome the opportunity to partner with Mountain State farmworkers.  However — much to the workers’ surprise — Ben & Jerry’s has thus far refused to join the Milk with Dignity Program and instead has chosen to pursue its own “Caring Dairy” initiative, which Migrant Justice representatives describe as a voluntary program that calls on farmers to self-monitor with no mechanisms for real worker participation in oversight or enforcement.  

So dairy workers are turning to the people Ben & Jerry’s cannot afford to ignore — you, their customers!  Migrant Justice is calling on anyone who enjoys the occasional cup of Half Baked ice cream or cone of Cherry Garcia to take action to support Vermont dairy workers’ human rights today, and to mark June 20th for a national day of action in support of Milk with Dignity:

Farmworkers Call for National Day of Action Demanding Ben & Jerry’s Stand for Dairy Farmworker’s Rights


Farmworker leader Enrique Balcazar speaking during the launch of the Milk with Dignity Campaign

“Power Concedes Nothing Without a Demand. It never did and it never will.” – Frederick Douglas

On May Day a powerful grassroots movement of Vermont dairy farmworkers marched in the streets of Montpelier, VT with hundreds of workers and allies demanding Vermont step up its commitment to workers’ rights.  Farmworker leader Enrique Balcazar told a crowd of supporters that dairy workers are fed up with wage theft, dangerous working conditions, no time off, substandard housing, and no enforcement of their rights. He offered farmworkers’ solution:

“Join us for a national day of action on June 20th calling on Ben & Jerry’s to take responsibility for these conditions in their supply chain.  They’ve stood up to protect cows and chickens but not farmworkers!  We need Milk with Dignity!”

Stand with VT dairy workers in calling on Ben & Jerry’s to Join the Milk with Dignity Program:

  • Sign and spread this online petition​​​ ​​in support of farmworkers!
  • Pledge your organization’s support and solidarity for VT Dairy Workers by signing here. Post the statement to your website and spread the word!
  • Check out this new campaign video to learn more!  Post it to your website, Facebook, and tweet it out across the world! #MilkwithDignity
  • Stand up for farmworkers’ rights at your local Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop!​ We are hopeful Ben & Jerry’s will come to understand its moral obligation before June 20th giving them an opportunity to turn this into a national celebration of farmworker’s rights!  Email us to organize an action in your town
  • Vermont allies:  Join the Milk with Dignity Day of Action: Party or Protest?  Join us in Burlington on June 20th, 12pm, 294 N. Winooski Ave, Burlington
  • Check out more campaign resources here

In addition to calling on consumer allies to take action in their most recent web post, Migrant Justice also goes on to make the case for why the Milk with Dignity Program stands out as a uniquely effective option against the backdrop of more traditional CSR programs:

Ben & Jerry's advertise their Fair Trade Certified coffee

Ben & Jerry’s advertisement for their Fair Trade Certified coffee

VT dairy farmworkers’ pressing question was posed to readers across the nation this week in the renowned national food blog Civil Eats by author Vera Chang:

Will Ben & Jerry’s Help Improve Conditions for Dairy Workers? (Read here)

Farmworkers believe the answer should be an easy one for the company that has made a name for itself working to ensure responsible sourcing of ingredients. However, CEO Jostein Solheim has not yet chosen to meet with workers to negotiate an agreement. Rather Ben & Jerry’s has been actively promoting their “Caring Dairy Program” as the forum to resolve farmworkers’ problems. An idea farmworkers have emphatically rejected as leader Enrique Balcazar, responds:

“Caring Dairy was never designed with the goal of ensuring VT dairy workers’ rights are respected–it is a farmer education tool and is not equipped to make a credible claim to ensuring farmworker’s rights are protected. The program has absolutely no teeth, no real enforcement, no oversight, no monitoring, no auditing, and no accountability to workers. Most importantly there is no participation of workers built in to the day to day operations of the program to ensure they know their rights and can demand their rights without retaliation.”

A dairy worker and her child at work

A dairy worker and her child at work

Conversely, the Milk with Dignity Program, is a worker-driven social responsibility program based on the groundbreaking work of Florida farmworkers’ Fair Food Program that has a proven track record of securing fundamental rights for farmworkers.  Balcazar explains how the Milk with Dignity Program will ensure farmworkers rights are secured in the industry:

“The Milk with Dignity Program has 5 essential elements all of which are designed to give voice to farmworkers and protect their rights.  The first is standards–farmworkers have determined our definition of dignity.  The second is farm worker education–farmworkers know their rights and know what to do if their rights are violated.  Next is a third party that will monitor and enforce the standards that were created.  The fourth are premiums–the farm worker and the farmer should be given something directly from the corporation–in this case Ben & Jerry’s.  The fifth is a legally binding agreement–it makes all of these essential elements work under a legal framework.”

Ben & Jerry’s will only find their moral compass with some help from our movement!   Their participation in the Milk with Dignity Program is an opportunity for the company to make a truly credible claim that they are sourcing their cream in a manner that respects and upholds the rights of farmworkers.

Join the movement Ben & Jerry’s!  Let’s turn June 20th into a huge celebration for farmworker’s rights!  Its time to sit down with farmworkers and negotiate an agreement to participate in the Milk with Dignity Program!

We hope you will join us in blocking out June 20th to stand with Vermont dairy workers, and stay tuned for more exciting news from the Milk with Dignity Campaign!

Video short: Aspen Institute puts Fair Food Program center stage…

  “For the first time we as workers have a voice…” Last month, the Aspen Institute’s Economic Opportunities Program held a public forum in Washington, DC, entitled “The Future of Worker Voice” with a distinguished panel of speakers.  Included on that panel were two representatives of the Fair Food Program, Cruz Salucio of the CIW and Judge Laura Safer Espinoza, Executive Director of the Fair Food Standards Council.   The Aspen Institute is an organization that, for over 60 years, has worked to foster “enlightened leadership, the appreciation of timeless ideas and values, and open-minded dialogue on contemporary issues,” with perhaps its […]

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Leaving Publix: Growing wave of longtime Publix customers spurning Florida grocery giant to express outrage over company’s refusal to support Fair Food…

Life-long customer to Publix: “You have a responsibility to share the loyalty, good fortune and prosperity we’ve given you with the rest of your community.” An intriguing new trend is beginning to emerge among once-loyal customers of Publix, and Florida’s hometown grocer would do well to take note.  In increasing numbers, consumers are launching their own, personal boycotts of the Lakeland-based chain — often doing so quite publicly — to express their frustration with Publix’s unconscionable refusal to join the Fair Food Program (FFP).  As the FFP continues to expand and gain momentum, and as the food justice movement increasingly leaves Publix behind in its embrace of the worker-driven social responsibility model, […]

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“Will Ben & Jerry’s Help Improve Conditions for Dairy Workers?”

Great new article in Civil Eats asks: “A little Justice With Your Cherry Garcia?” Worker-driven Social Responsibility — the market-based model for the enforceable protection of human rights in corporate supply chains at the heart of the CIW’s Fair Food Program — is a proven success.  To quote an earlier post, entitled, “Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR): A new idea for a new century“: … The Fair Food Program has effected unprecedented change in Florida’s fields since it was implemented across 90% of the state’s tomato industry in 2011.  It has eliminated or greatly reduced longstanding abuses from sexual harassment to modern-day slavery, […]

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“The Fair Food Program is a proven model for change in US agriculture…”

VP of Compass Group USA reflects on relationship with the CIW and decision to expand commitment to the Fair Food Program… Late last month, Compass Group USA made a big splash when they announced plans to expand their commitment to the Fair Food Program within their supply chain!  As a part of their new Sustainability Platform, Compass Group declared that they would “extend the [Fair Food] Code of Conduct and penny-per-pound premium to crops other than tomatoes and beyond Florida” by 2020. In light of this exciting new development, we asked Compass Group’s Vice President of Communications, Cheryl Queen, to reflect on Compass’s six-year partnership […]

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“Why I won’t be shopping at Asheville’s new Publix … yet”

In local op/ed, Asheville author calls out Publix for “standing in the way of fairness”…  Publix’s grand opening in Asheville, North Carolina, earlier this month was not quite the celebration the Florida-based supermarket had planned.  Both on the morning of the supermarket’s opening day, and on the first Saturday afterwards, lively Fair Food protests greeted Publix executives and customers alike as they visited the new store.  The protesters included people from across the spectrum of the vibrant, progressive college town, from students to religious leaders to local families, children in tow. But the protests didn’t stop there.  In fact, the Asheville community is just getting started in ramping […]

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Mailbag, Vol. 1, Issue 2: “Publix is no longer my supermarket…”

Pompano Beach resident disavows Publix after back and forth with customer service… As you may recall, we launched a new web series this week — Mailbag: Letters from the Fair Food Nation!  We have received countless notes and anecdotes over the years from allies across the country, many of them truly inspiring, and it finally dawned on us that it might be nice to share some of the very best of those notes with the dear readers of this site.  And so today we bring you the second installment in that series, a letter from a Fair Food supporter named Jerry, living in Pompano Beach, Florida. […]

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Mailbag! A letter from the Fair Food Nation to Immokalee…

Inspired by “Food Chains,” DC middle schoolers sell lemonade for farmworker justice! “Fair” is one of the first words we learn when we need to distinguish right from wrong in the world.  “That’s not fair!” is a universal childhood lament that echoes across playgrounds, streets, and backyards around the country and across generations.  Indeed, children come into this world with an innate sense of justice, an inner compass that reels when things are not right, or fair, around them. We here in Immokalee were reminded of that precious quality of youth late last week, when we received a remarkable letter from two young ladies in the 8th grade class at the Sheridan School in Washington, DC. […]

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Citizens of Asheville to Publix: Expand your commitment to human rights if you want to expand into our state!

Publix opening met with scores of protesters in North Carolinian mountain city…  As anyone across the Southeast knows, Publix Supermarkets has turned its energy in recent years to extending its network of 1,000+ stores beyond the borders of its native Florida.  While new supermarkets are popping up in states all across the South — including Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina and Alabama — Publix’s most serious courtship is surely with the state of North Carolina.  Their arrival there is being announced with a neighborly (or cautionary, depending on your perspective) message for residents of the Tar Heel state:  “We’re here to be your store.” But North Carolina — already […]

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WINNER: Food Chains wins 2015 James Beard Award for Documentary Film!

Enough said… Last month we told you that Food Chains, the powerful new documentary about farmworker exploitation and the CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food, had been nominated for the prestigious James Beard Award, the food world’s top award, also known as the “Oscars of Food.”   Well, last week at a gala ceremony in New York City, it became official: Food Chains won the 2015 James Beard Award for Documentary Film!  Author and fellow James Beard Award winner Barry Estabrook was on hand to receive the award on behalf of the film crew. Congratulations go out to all the Food Chains crew, […]

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BREAKING NEWS: Compass Group pledges to double down on Fair Food commitment!

World’s largest contract foodservice company releases new Sustainability Platform, promises to “extend the (Fair Food) code of conduct and premium to crops other than tomatoes and beyond Florida”…  In a surprise move that promises to extend the benefits of the award-winning Fair Food Program to thousands of more farmworkers, Compass Group released yesterday “its new Sustainability Platform which advances its efforts to better protect and manage our food sources and the people who harvest and grow those sources.”  As part of this new initiative, Compass is committing to expand its partnership with the CIW well beyond the boundaries of the Florida tomato […]

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“If Publix listened to all customers…”

Publix rebuffs Nashville Fair Food, issues strict “No Trespassing” notice for Middle Tennessee… Earlier this month, we shared an exciting announcement from Nashville Fair Food:  On Sunday, April 12th, our indefatigable Volunteer State allies were planning to take Publix manager letter deliveries to a whole new level with what they had dubbed the Amazing Race for Farmworker Justice!  In a strategic response to the team of Publix representatives who crisscross the southeastern United States to monitor Fair Food rallies large and small and fend off dialogue between consumers and their local Publix managers, the Nashville crew planned to visit all 30 stores in the Middle Tennessee area in a single day.  The strategy […]

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Big news out of Ahold’s shareholder meeting in Amsterdam, with more to come…

  We’ll keep this short and sweet for now. As you may remember, last week we posted a report on what was then our upcoming visit to Ahold’s annual shareholder meeting in Amsterdam.  Ahold is the Dutch parent company to several major US grocery chains, including northeastern supermarket icons Giant and Stop & Shop.  This was to be our fifth visit to the annual meeting, and past trips across the Atlantic had never proven boring. This year was no exception, though with a far, far more positive twist!  The video above is from Ahold CEO Dick Boer’s opening remarks, in […]

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“Injustice anywhere…” Farmworker strike in Mexico underscores urgent need for real human rights protections on both sides of the border…

Strike leader’s early years with CIW in Immokalee helped shape role in today’s protests… Two weeks after erupting in an historic strike, farmworkers in Baja California’s fertile produce fields are settling in for the long haul and assessing their options for how best to protect the rights they say have been trampled for years. The strike began on Tuesday, March 17, as thousands of workers left the fields and took to the streets to demand an end to longstanding poverty and abuse in Mexico’s produce industry.  According to a report in the LA Times, “Mexican farmworkers strike over low wages, […]

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Students, young people to Wendy’s: “You’re boycotting the Fair Food Program, so we’re going to boycott you!”

Amidst massive Concert and Parade for Fair Food, Student / Farmworker Alliance declares national Wendy’s boycott! If you had the pleasure of joining farmworkers from Immokalee for last week’s Parade and Concert for Fair Food, you will remember just what a sweet celebration it was.  The parade was resplendent with flapping golden flags and colorful floats representing the farmworker community, their steadfast consumer allies, and the hard-won rights farmworkers now enjoy in the Florida tomato industry under the Fair Food Program.  Onlookers watched with smiles and cheers as floats rolled by celebrating the New Day in Florida’s fields…  The right to work free of modern-day […]

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NEW VIDEO: How much longer, Publix…

Amidst the stunning artwork and irresistible dance music, the Concert and Parade for Fair Food this past Saturday in St. Petersburg had a powerful new message for the food industry: The Fair Food Nation is not only here, but it is here to stay, and it is growing.   Last Saturday, thousands of new Fair Food allies came into the fold, joining the CIW’s celebration of the progress in Florida’s tomato fields under the Fair Food Program — the elimination of forced labor, the unprecedented strides in combatting sexual violence, the freedom to speak up about abuse without fear of retaliation, and much more. In […]

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