At shareholder meeting, Hannaford celebrates massive profits – and gets questioned on Milk with Dignity

On April 13th, Ahold Delhaize, the parent company of Hannaford Supermarkets, held its annual meeting of shareholders. The multinational corporation’s executives and investors celebrated a banner year – a 60% increase in profits, with sales topping $80 billion – and they rewarded themselves with generous bonuses and over a billion dollars in stock dividends

Meanwhile, farmworkers whose labor forms the base of Ahold’s wealth continue working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, in dangerous conditions, for subminimum wages, while living in housing unfit for human habitation. This stark inequality makes it crystal clear why Hannaford can and must take responsibility for conditions in its supply chain by partering with dairy workers in the Milk with Dignity program.

Hannaford customers are “adopting” their local stores on May 1st, International Workers Day, and committing to take action in support of Milk with Dignity. There are already actions confirmed at 18 Hannaford locations around the region.

Sign up to join an action at a Hannaford near you! Add your name to adopt your local Hannaford on 5/1 and we’ll follow up with more information on how to take action.

Last summer, 75 shareholder groups wrote a letter to Ahold expressing their concern about human rights violations in Hannaford’s dairy supply chain and urged the company to join Milk with Dignity. At the meeting, one of the signatories of the letter raised those concerns once again and asked if Hannaford is ready to join the program.

The question was directed to Kevin Holt, CEO of Ahold Delhaize USA and the boss of Hannaford President Mike Vail. His response was revealing, both for how much Hannaford has done to try to protect its brand reputation, and for the company’s major blindspot.

Holt told shareholders that following the launch of the Milk with Dignity campaign “the company decided to conduct a thorough due diligence of the supply chain, including on-farm assessments of working and living conditions. Hannaford actively investigated allegations with their suppliers and agencies such as the federal and state level Departments of both Labor and Agriculture.”

Missing from Hannaford’s “thorough due diligence”? Farmworkers themselves! Without any meaningful engagement with workers, small wonder that Holt concluded that “Hannaford has not substantiated any labor or human rights abuses through the investigations that have been conducted.” 

This dynamic is precisely why a worker-driven program like Milk with Dignity is so essential. The failure of corporate self-assessments led workers to create our own program with protections against retaliation and with binding enforcement of worker-defined standards. These elements are necessary to achieve meaningful understandings of labor conditions and have been key to transforming conditions for the hundreds of dairy workers in Ben & Jerry’s supply chain.

Finally, Holt lamented that farmworkers are “engag[ing] in tactics that make meaningful dialog somewhat difficult.” He failed to mention that farmworkers only made the Milk with Dignity invitation public – and began calling on consumers to urge the company to join the program – after months of private communication, without any response from Hannaford. The company stonewalled farmworkers and now criticizes them for not quietly accepting continued abuse and inaction.

Ahold’s response to shareholder questions about Milk with Dignity shows why workers and consumers must continue to pressure Hannaford to accept responsibility and take action. Hannaford is feeling the heat and is trying to deflect criticism through its own investigations. Yet a true accounting for labor conditions on the farms behind Hannaford-brand milk can only be achieved by partnering with farmworkers themselves and joining the Milk with Dignity program.

Come out on Mayday to support farmworkers’ fight for rights and dignity! Workers will be leading actions in Middlebury, VT at 11:30am and in South Burlington, VT at 1:30pm. Join one of the day’s main protests, or sign up to take part in a solidarity action at your local store!