“It’s a new day in dairy”: Migrant Justice, Ben & Jerry’s sign agreement to launch Milk with Dignity Program in Vermont dairy industry!

Members of Migrant Justice and Ben & Jerry’s CEO Joestein Solheim sign and hold aloft a mock Milk with Dignity agreement on Tuesday outside Ben & Jerry’s flagship store in Burlington, VT.

New York Times: “Ben & Jerry’s signs a landmark agreement today to beef up the rights of often exploited dairy workers in VT”…

Migrant Justice’s Enrique Balcazar on agreement: “This is what we are calling a new day in dairy!”

In breaking news out of Vermont’s iconic dairy industry, ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s and the dairy workers’ organization Migrant Justice signed today — after more than two long years of negotiation — an historic agreement to implement Migrant Justice’s Milk with Dignity Program in Ben & Jerry’s dairy supply chain.

We quote here directly from Migrant Justice’s website for more on this groundbreaking agreement:

Milk with Dignity agreement signed! Watershed moment for workers’ rights in the dairy industry

On Tuesday October 3, farmworker leaders from Migrant Justice and the CEO of Ben & Jerry’s jointly signed the Milk with Dignity agreement.  The legally-binding contract establishes Ben & Jerry’s as the first company in the dairy industry to implement the worker-driven human rights program.  This momentous occasion marks the beginning of a new day for dairy, one that provides economic relief and support to struggling farm owners, in the form of a premium paid by Ben & Jerry’s, while ensuring dignity and respect for farmworkers.

Before putting his signature on the document, Migrant Justice spokesperson Enrique “Kike” Balcazar spoke to those assembled:

“This is an historic moment for dairy workers.  We have worked tirelessly to get here, and now we move forward towards a new day for the industry.  We appreciate Ben & Jerry’s leadership role and look forward to working together to implement a program that ensures dignified housing and fair working conditions on dairy farms across the region. And though this is the first, it won’t be the last agreement of its kind.”

Today’s signing ceremony brings to a close more than two years of public campaigning by dairy workers and their allies, as well as intensive negotiations between Migrant Justice and Ben & Jerry’s.  The agreement follows the “Human Rights Can’t Wait” speaking tour — which brought dairy workers to a dozen cities along the east coast — and comes just two days before the October 5th National Day of Action.  Migrant Justice is calling off the actions that were to take place at Ben & Jerry’s scoop shops around the country in order to focus on the coming work of implementing this ground-breaking agreement in Ben & Jerry’s supply chain.

Ben & Jerry’s implementation of the Milk with Dignity program will result in transformational changes to a troubled industry.  

  • Farmworkers will see concrete improvements in wages, scheduling, housing, and health and safety protections

  • Farm owners will receive a premium on their milk and support in improving working conditions

  • Ben & Jerry’s can sell a product made with cream produced free from human rights abuses

  • Consumers — thousands of whom have called for this change — will be able to see their solidarity with farmworkers bear fruit in the form of a major company’s concrete commitment to promoting human rights through worker-driven social responsibility… (read more

Milk with Dignity and the Fair Food Program…

The Migrant Justice website goes on to describe the relationship of the new Milk with Dignity Program to the CIW’s Fair Food Program:

Migrant Justice staff, members, and allies gather outside the Migrant Justice offices before heading to the signing ceremony Tuesday morning.

… Developed by Vermont dairy workers, Milk with Dignity is modeled after the world-renowned Fair Food Program.  Through a series of 14 Buyer Agreements with major food corporations — from McDonald’s to Walmart — the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has transformed the Florida tomato industry.  Once considered ground-zero for modern day slavery in the United States, the tomato fields of Florida are now recognized as one of the best workplaces in U.S. agriculture.  The change has been accomplished through the CIW’s bold vision of “worker-driven social responsibility:” harnessing the market power of corporations to set conditions in their supply chains using standards and enforcement led by the workers themselves.

The Milk with Dignity Program will be implemented throughout Ben & Jerry’s dairy supply chain using the five essential elements of worker-driven social responsibility developed by the CIW:

  1. Farmworker-Authored Code of Conduct: Farms in Ben & Jerry’s supply chain must meet the standards defined by farmworkers in wages, scheduling, housing, health and safety, and the right to work free from retaliation;

  2. Farmworker Education: From day one, workers in the program will be educated on their rights under the code of conduct and how to enforce them.  Workers will become frontline defenders of their own human rights.

  3. Third Party Monitoring Body: The newly-created Milk with Dignity Standards Council (MDSC) will enforce the agreement by auditing farms’ compliance with the code of conduct, receiving, investigating and resolving worker grievances, and creating improvement plans to address violations.  The MDSC will work with farmers and farmworkers in order to problem-solve issues as they arise seeking to improve communication and participation in the workplace.  It may suspend a farm from the program if the farm is unwilling to meet the standards in the code of conduct, creating strong market incentives to improve conditions and make workers’ human rights a reality.

  4. Economic relief: Ben & Jerry’s will pay a premium to all participating farms in their supply chain. The premium provides workers with a bonus in each paycheck and serves to offset farms’ costs of compliance with the code of conduct.

  5. Legally-binding Agreement: Ben & Jerry’s has signed a legally-binding agreement that defines the program as a long-term contract enforceable under law.


The launch of the Milk with Dignity Program is a huge leap for Vermont dairy workers, and for the dairy industry as a whole, which will benefit — as has the tomato industry in the case of the Fair Food Program — by giving workers a voice, identifying bad practices and bad actors, and eliminating risks that threaten the wellbeing of everyone involved, from workers to farmers to buyers.  The improvements that will emerge from the Milk with Dignity Program in the Vermont dairy industry will almost certainly drive  its expansion — championed by consumers, workers, and buyers alike —  into the rest of the Northeast dairy industry in the years ahead.  

The workers’ victory in Vermont today is a major step forward for the Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) model, as well.  The now-proven scalability and replicability of the model stands to facilitate its further expansion and extend its protections to countless more workers in similar circumstance — in agriculture, apparel, electronics, seafood, and beyond — both here in the US and overseas. 
CIW staff and allies toast Migrant Justice’s exciting new agreement with some celebratory Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Immokalee.
The CIW crew extends our most heartfelt congratulations to our friends in Vermont and looks forward to working together in the years ahead as we fight for the human rights of workers in the produce industry and on dairy farms, and for the expansion of the groundbreaking WSR model to workers at the bottom of corporate supply chains across the country and around the globe.
Check back soon for more from this fast-breaking story, including a media round-up with coverage from New York Times, Barry Estabrook, and more!