March for Milk With Dignity
Summer is on its way. It’s heating up in Vermont and farmworkers are calling on allies and consumers across the nation, as we roll into ice cream season, to turn up the heat on Ben & Jerry's by joining us on the March for Milk with Dignity on June 17th!
Saturday, June 17th marks the two-year anniversary of Ben & Jerry’s commitment to join Migrant Justice’s Milk with Dignity Program. Unfortunately however, for two years there’s been lots of talk, but no action by Ben & Jerry’s to do what they said they would do--protect the human rights of dairy workers in their supply chain!
As you will see below, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, right now, is not just packed full of chocolate, marshmallows, nuts and pretzels--it’s main ingredient--cream, is also made with wage theft, inhumane housing, and dangerous working conditions. And farmworkers have not only been alerting Ben & Jerry’s for nearly eight years now about these conditions. They have also provided, in the Milk with Dignity Program, Ben & Jerry’s an opportunity to take effective action to both protect the rights of dairy workers and alleviate the markets downward pressure on the whole farm by providing farmers a premium for milk.
Vermont dairy workers cannot wait another day for Ben & Jerry’s to follow-through on its promises to secure workers’ fundamental human rights. Thus, Migrant Justice is putting out a call to action and solidarity to allies and consumers across the nation.
And here are three reasons why we hope you will come out to our march in Vermont on June 17th:
1) By joining the Milk with Dignity Program, Ben & Jerry’s will put in place health and safety protections in its dairy supply chain that could literally mean the difference between life and death.
For farmworkers, the struggle for a voice and human rights in Ben & Jerry’s supply chain began nearly 8 years ago, when José Obeth Santiz Cruz was killed on a farm that supplies milk to Ben & Jerry’s. And, unfortunately, José is not alone. Dairy is notoriously dangerous work for farmers and workers alike, with both totally inadequate and largely unenforced worker protections. For example, in New York state, where some of Ben & Jerry’s supplier farms are located, there were 34 deaths reported on dairy farms alone between 2007 and 2012, and OSHA only inspected four of these fatalities.
2) By joining the Milk with Dignity Program, Ben & Jerry’s will establish much needed protections and enforcement mechanisms in their dairy supply chain against forced labor, wage theft and retaliation against workers who defend their rights.
As Victor, a worker who’s been in Vermont’s dairy industry for 6 years, shared with Ben & Jerry’s team on several occasions since 2014, he knows what it’s like to have your wages stolen on a farm that supplies Ben & Jerry’s its milk. Victor’s case puts a human face behind the fact that twenty percent of Vermont farmworkers report having their first wages withheld--a practice that is not only illegal, it can in some cases contribute to forced labor. Indeed, Victor and his co-workers desperately wanted to leave behind their deplorable housing and workplace conditions, but they also felt trapped, knowing that the farmer had withheld their first paycheck.
Rafael also has experienced abuse on a farm that supplies milk to Ben & Jerry’s, where his pay would sometimes be weeks, and even months, late. Eventually, he was owed $2,500 by his employer. He, like Victor, felt stuck after his employer threatened to fire him if he spoke up. And Rafael had cause for concern. Workers know all too well that employers’ threats of retaliation are often serious: there are many cases like that of Miguel, who also worked on a farm that supplies milk to Ben & Jerry’s, who are retaliated against or fired for demanding better working conditions. And though there have been no cases of forced labor that have been made public in Vermont to date--this recent case of forced labor in the Idaho dairy industry should serve as a wake up call.
3) By joining the Milk with Dignity Program, Ben & Jerry’s will put in place much needed protections--with enforcement--against workplace discrimination, overcrowded housing, and ensure that workers’ have access to things as fundamental as adequate heat and clean water.
Thelma is one of 15% of workers who has lived with inadequate heat and no access to a bathroom in her living quarters. She also is one of the 8% of workers who has gone without reliable access to clean water. And Thelma, like Victor, Rafael and Miguel, worked on a farm that supplies milk to Ben & Jerry’s. On top of this, Thelma was also paid less than federal minimum wage, which is something that most women dairy workers report--unequal pay for equal work.
Victor not only faced wage theft, but like Thelma, he too was housed in a camper with a leaky roof, inadequate heat through a cold Vermont winter, and no reliable access to clean water and a bathroom. In fact, when Victor blew the whistle on his employer, he also stood up in defense of the environment--his employer was also illegally dumping sewage and wastewater.
Please join farmworkers like Victor, Thelma, Rafael, and Miguel for the June 17th March for Milk with Dignity and demand that Ben & Jerry’s stop dragging its heels on putting in place real and enforceable human rights protections in its dairy supply chain by joining the Milk with Dignity Program without further delay!
Right now, Ben & Jerry’s has no real and enforceable standards in place that prevent these abuses of wage theft, forced labor, retaliation, worker fatalities, and inhumane housing conditions. Together, we can change this.
On June 17th, come to Vermont and join Victor, Thelma, Rafael, and Miguel, who will lead a march through Vermont's iconic rural dairy landscapes, finishing up at Ben & Jerry's world famous Waterbury, VT plant and global public relations center. We are expecting a huge turnout, including dozens of organizational delegations from across the country, to accompany farmworkers on this historic march to make farmworkers’ human rights a reality by demanding Ben & Jerry’s join Milk with Dignity now!