Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s has signed a deal with human rights group Migrant Justice, which it says will guarantee working conditions in its supply chain and recruit farmers from a Vermont dairy co-op to achieve that goal.
Under the deal, Ben & Jerry’s, “an aspiring social justice company”, has agreed to implement the worker-driven Milk with Dignity (MD) program throughout its dairy supply chain in the Northeast.
The plan now is to put the buyer’s agreement into practice by recruiting farmers from Vermont-based St. Albans Cooperative to join the project as soon as possible.
The organizations have been working for two years on the program, which brings together farm workers, farmers and dairy buyers. They have now started a multi-year plan to eventually source 100 percent of Ben & Jerry’s milk through the MD program, alongside a holistic dairy program that addresses all key aspects of dairy farming.
Milk with Dignity enlists the resources of food industry leaders to provide a premium for dairy ingredients to participating farmers, who agree to work towards compliance with the labor standards in the Milk with Dignity Code of Conduct.
The premium paid to farmers helps offset farms’ costs of compliance with the code, rewards farms that comply and allows farmers to pass-through a portion of the premium as a bonus paid to workers.
As the agreement was signed outside Ben & Jerry’s flagship store on Church Street in Burlington, Vermont, farmworker organizer and former dairy worker Enrique Balcazar called it a "historic day" for dairy workers.
“We have worked tirelessly to get here, and now, we move forward towards a new day for us dairy workers," Balcazar said. "This is a huge step forward for us and for all workers and we appreciate that Ben & Jerry’s has taken a leadership role to source its milk in a way that improves working and housing conditions on dairy farms.”
Jostein Solheim, CEO of Ben & Jerry’s, told the crowd: “This is a groundbreaking, historic moment not only for two organizations but most importantly for the hard-working dairy farm workers who are a critical part of our community.”
He said the farmers, and the St. Albans Cooperative, were key to making the next steps of program implementation possible.
“Vermont’s farmers can continue to set the tone for the dairy industry,” Solheim added. “Today, whether it is for animal care, environmentally sound operations, and now, enhanced labour practices, Vermont’s farming community will continue to lead the nation.
“We are proud of our partnership with the St. Albans Cooperative and these farmers have our full commitment. We recognize the many challenges facing Vermont dairy farmers today, and we need to do what we can collectively to support the farmers moving forward. We can’t do this without them," he added.