Milk with Dignity Campaign

The Milk with Dignity campaign builds a movement of farmworkers and allies calling on dairy companies to ensure respect for human rights in their supply chains by joining the worker-driven Milk with Dignity Program

 

photo by Q2
photo by Q2

After years of "putting out fires" in defense of Vermont dairy worker's rights on a farm by farm basis, Vermont farmworker members of Migrant Justice decided it was time for a systemic solution with the capacity to drive industry wide change.  In 2014, Vermont dairy workers conducted an in-depth survey to document the top workplace and housing issues in the industry. Workers then converted these worker's rights and housing violations into solutions in the creation of the Milk with Dignity Code of Conduct—defining the human rights essential to a dignified workplace and fair housing. 

To build the campaign farmworkers also engaged in a study of the dairy industry, recognizing that a corporate-controlled industry places downward pressure on farmers' incomes, and profits rise for the few when milk prices are low for the many. Additionally, Migrant Justice farmworker leaders initiated an ongoing dialogue with Florida farmworkers beginning in August of 2014 to learn about their successful experiences with the Campaign for Fair Food.  Through this process Vermont workers learned that they were in need of much more than standards or a Code without enforcement, which is the prevailing public relations based approach found in Corporate Social Responsability (CSR) initiatives.  Therefore, workers began a process to adapt the core concepts of their Fair Food Program to the VT dairy context resulting in a deep dive into the power of the Worker-Driven Social Responsability (WSR) model. The development and design of the Milk with Dignity Program was done with strategic support and collaboration from both the CIW, the Fair Food Standards Council, the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI) all founding members of the Worker-Driven Social Responsibility Network.

In December 2014 farmworkers approached Ben & Jerry's, inviting the company to take the lead in the industry by joining the Milk with Dignity Program-- precisely because they are a corporation that has distinguished itself for its commitment to social justice and high standards for its values-based sourcing of ingredients. Ben & Jerry's is also important to farmworkers because it purchases 100% of its cream from St. Albans Cooperative farms where many of Vermont's 1,200 - 1,500 dairy farmworkers are employed. Farmworkers invited Ben & Jerry's to be an industry leader in joining the Milk with Dignity Program. Farmworkers invited Ben & Jerry's to commit to source its northeast dairy through the MD Program adhering to the MD Program's 5 essential elements:

  • Farmworker-Authored Code of Conduct: farmworkers’ definition of the human right to work with dignity and fair housing;
  • Farmworker Education: Guarantees workers’ the right to receive education about their rights under the Code of Conduct;
  • Third Party Monitoring Body: Monitors, enforces and audits farmer compliance with Code of Conduct; receives worker complaints and addresses grievances; creates improvement plans to address violations; enforces consequences for non-compliance
  • Economic relief: Participating corporations restore economic justice in the supply chain paying an extra premiumdirectly to both farmworkers AND farmers
  • Legally-binding Agreements: Participating Corporations (Ben & Jerry's) sign a legally binding agreement that defines the program as an enforceable contract under the law

On June 19th, 2015 Ben & Jerry's and Migrant Justice signed an Agreement to Cooperate kicking of years of talks and on and off public campaigning, which all came to a very happy ending on October 3, 2017 when Migrant Justice and Ben & Jerry's finalized and signed the first ever Milk with Dignity Agreement!

Migrant Justice is currently engaged in exploratory conversations with a number of major dairy brands about the possible expansion of the MD Program. Stay in touch should we require a public campaign to get over the finish line, or in the event of a celebration after the next (of many!) dairy buyers signs a legally-binding agreement to join the MD Program.

 

photo by Terry Allen
photo by Terry Allen

 

Milk with Dignity Campaign Resources

Milk with Dignity Campaign Handout

2014 Farmworker Survey Results

Media: Milk with Dignity Campaign in the news