“From empty standards to enforceable rights”…

Cover image from Migrant Justice’s first biennial report on the groundbreaking Milk with Dignity Program (photo by Vera Chang).  The report covers the history of the innovative human rights program, its mechanisms for monitoring and enforcement, and the results from its first two years of operation.

Migrant Justice releases landmark report documenting unprecedented progress in Vermont dairy industry under Milk with Dignity Program;

Worker under MWD Program: “Before we never spoke up, now we have the freedom to speak, without any fear that we’ll be fired.  You feel more secure, with all the benefits and knowing all your rights.”;

Participating Farmer: “The [Milk with Dignity premium] might make the difference between us still having a farm a year from now or not.”

Here below is a story of human rights progress on one of Vermont’s iconic dairy farms that you will not hear from any other corner of the country’s $628 billion dairy industry:

The story of Yaya and David’s successful efforts to humanize their workplace is recounted in the Milk with Dignity Program’s first biennial report, released last week by the program’s architect, Migrant Justice.  Migrant Justice is a human rights organization based in the dairy worker community of Vermont that in 2017 announced the signing of an agreement with the ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s and launched the Milk with Dignity Program on over 60 farms in Ben & Jerry’s supply chain. 

The report chronicles two years (2018, 2019) of what Migrant Justice describes as “tremendous progress” on participating farms, signaling “a new day for human rights in the dairy industry.”  Here’s an excerpt from the report’s Executive Summary:

On October 3rd, 2017, dozens of farmworkers stood alongside the CEO of a major global dairy company on a crowded street in Burlington, Vermont and announced a monumental achievement. For the first time in history, the immigrant workers who milk cows and scrape stalls – those who work at the bottom of the supply chain – had partnered with a corporation at the top: together they signed a contract making Ben &Jerry’s  the first company to join the Milk with Dignity Program.

Developed by immigrant farmworkers in the state of Vermont, the Milk with Dignity Program brings together workers, farmers, and industry leaders to address persistent labor abuses in the dairy industry. The Program has adapted to dairy the innovative “Worker-driven Social Responsibility” model created by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their groundbreaking Fair Food Program. This model succeeds by calling on corporations to take responsibility for conditions in their supply chains and by offering solutions via binding, worker- designed programs with clear enforcement mechanisms…

The Executive Summary closes with a look toward the future:

… The dramatic and concrete changes detailed in this report demonstrate the power of clear, enforceable standards and rigorous monitoring processes. This transformation has been made possible through the financial investment of a participating buyer and the application of real, market-based incentives and consequences. The movement towards accountability represents a marked departure from the industry norms of the past — and from top-down, corporate-led programs purporting to monitor working conditions. However, there is more work to be done…

… This report documents the first two years of the Milk with Dignity Program and looks towards future opportunities for expansion. As readers will see, the Program has been singularly successful in bringing about the “new day for human rights” on the farms it covers. Yet severe problems persist outside the Program. Migrant Justice invites companies to follow the lead of Ben & Jerry’s in joining the only program in the dairy industry capable of enforcing labor standards in their supply chains and ensuring workers’ human rights.

The report takes an in-depth look at the changes taking place on Milk with Dignity participating farms, going from the micro — including several inspiring stories of individual workers’ successful efforts to solve problems ranging from sub-standard housing to sexual harassment — to the macro, with a bird’s eye, by-the-numbers view of the program as a whole:

It is a remarkable story of the first major replication of the Worker-driven Social Responsibility model here in the US and is a must read for anyone interested in the mechanisms necessary for real, measurable progress against the human rights violations that have plagued US agriculture for generations.  Be sure to check it out in its entirety here.

In short:

Go to the Migrant Justice website and download your copy of the report today!