Milk with Dignity Celebrates 5 Years of Human Rights
On September 24th, hundreds of people came out to celebrate the five year anniversary of the Milk with Dignity Program. Nearly five years have passed since farmworkers and Ben & Jerry’s signed the first, historic agreement launching Milk with Dignity and bringing worker-driven social responsibility to the dairy industry.
The celebration – held at the Highland Center for the Arts, in the heart of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom – featured live music from Kat Wright, Pía Zapata, and Tish Hinojosa, a photo gallery showcasing the work of Terry Allen, and home-cooked Mexican food from members of the farmworker community. The event also broadcast a video of well-wishes and congratulations from various government officials, food systems notables, and the founders of Ben & Jerry’s (see the video above).
At the anniversary celebration, dairy workers and the CEO of Ben & Jerry’s stood side-by-side once more to celebrate the incredible transformations that farmworkers and farmers have achieved through Milk with Dignity. Party-goers also got the first peek at a new report detailing the Program’s impact.
The report details how Milk with Dignity has changed the lives of hundreds of workers on scores of farms in Vermont and New York. Mixing facts and figures with powerful case studies and testimonies from farmworkers and farmers, the report is the most comprehensive document to date showing how Milk with Dignity is bringing “a new day for human rights in the dairy industry.”
Some of the highlights of the Program’s activities over its first five years include:
- $3.4 million have been invested in workers’ wages and bonuses and in improvements to labor and housing conditions, plus additional funds that have been retained by farms as economic relief and incentive for their participation in the Program
- Workers and farmers have made 1,095 inquiries to the 24/7 Worker Support Line, resulting in the resolution of 474 violations of the farmworker-authored Code of Conduct
- The Milk with Dignity Standards Council has conducted 183 farm audits, including 794 farmworker interviews, 267 management interviews, 222 worksite inspections, and 182 housing unit inspections
- Migrant Justice has conducted 212 Program education sessions, with 1,093 worker and manager participants
Milk with Dignity’s diligence and thoroughness make it wholly unique in the dairy industry, setting it apart from corporate-led initiatives that claim to uphold workers’ rights while doing little to make those claims a reality. These worker-centered enforcement mechanisms have achieved unprecedented results. Some examples include:
- 90% of workers are being paid at least the state minimum wage, compared to fewer than 60% outside the Program
- Over 80% have a weekly day off, compared to 60% before the Program
- 97% have access to paid sick leave, compared to virtually no workers outside the Program, and only 47% in Milk with Dignity’s first year
Ultimately, the most impactful testament of Milk with Dignity’s accomplishments come not from the statistics but from the workers who are improving conditions and enforcing their rights. These workers include Juan and Anthony, who used to live in a horrendous, one-room converted office built into the barn and now live in new, quality housing built under the Program; they include Luisa, who has seen improvements in salary, schedule, and housing and who reflects: “We feel more free now. We aren’t afraid of being fired if we ask for something;” and they include Efrain, whose wages have increased 75% since his farm joined the program.
Workers praise Milk with Dignity’s impact while also noting how much work lies in the road ahead. As Efrain notes:
“I’m full of joy thinking about these last five years. I celebrate the changes we’ve made and I believe in a future where there are even more changes, where all workers in the dairy industry feel happy and satisfied with the jobs we have.