ACTION ALERT: “We need Milk with Dignity!”

[hupso title=”ACTION ALERT: We need #MilkWithDignity! Support @MigrantJustice dairy workers today…” url=”http://ciw-online.org/blog/2015/05/milk-dignity-action/”]

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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

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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!