Hannaford’s hotline fails farmworkers

For years, farmworkers have called on Hannaford Supermarkets to take responsibility for the rights and well-being of the workers behind Hannaford-brand milk by joining the Milk with Dignity Program. Hannaford has responded that participation in Milk with Dignity is unnecessary, because the company’s “Standards of Engagement” sufficiently protect workers’ rights. The centerpiece of that claim is Hannaford’s “Speak-Up Line:” following years of farmworkers denouncing deplorable conditions, the supermarket chain launched a hotline for workers in its supply chain.

Over the past year, farmworkers have put Hannaford’s “Speak-Up Line” to the test. Workers on ten farms submitted complaints about abuse and mistreatment. What has their experience shown? On every front, Hannaford’s system has failed to protect farmworker rights.

Farmworkers’ experiences reveal Hannaford’s “Speak-Up Line” as a poor imitation of Milk with Dignity. It lacks the accessibility that makes Milk with Dignity an effective program to protect workers’ rights. The “investigations” conducted in response to workers’ complaints are grossly inadequate and biased, in contrast to Milk with Dignity’s speedy, thorough, and professional investigations. Hannaford has not provided remediation to a single worker’s complaint, as opposed to the hundreds of complaints resulting in remediation on Milk with Dignity farms.

These failures mean that Hannaford has been unable to provide enforceable protections for farmworkers: its much-touted “Standards of Engagement” are meaningless to the workers whose rights are violated daily. Meanwhile, the protections guaranteed by Milk with Dignity are well-documented and incontrovertible.

Below are testimonies from farmworkers detailing the abuses and rights violations they have faced. These workers have all submitted complaints to Hannaford’s “Speak-Up Line.” When the company has investigated, it has taken an average of over 100 days to resolve the complaint. In some cases, Hannaford has claimed that the abuses are not their problem – despite strong evidence that the farm is in Hannaford’s supply chain; in others, the complaint was deemed “inconsistent with what was observed,” following cursory investigations completely lacking in worker engagement. In two cases, the company admitted that violations did occur but failed to take serious remedial action. None of the workers who submitted complaints through Hannaford's "Speak-Up Line" has received any remedy for the abuses that they have experienced.

It was a matter of life and death

The supervisor on the farm where my family and I worked was a very violent man. He would force us to work extra hours, didn’t allow us to take food breaks, and constantly insulted us. My wife, my mother, and I all had to work eleven hours a day. Our housing had pest infestations, and my employer didn’t care. 

One evening the supervisor was drinking and he started to come into our room. He was mad at my mother. He was carrying a machete and started to threaten us. He wanted to hurt my mother. I decided to call the police. 

The supervisor denied everything to the police. My boss came to see what was happening, and she got upset with us for calling the police and started taking the supervisor’s side. She fired us and asked us to leave the house first thing in the morning. She stated that it wasn’t fair to leave her without the supervisor and to call the police. She never asked about our well-being.

It was a matter of life and death. We carry a lot of trauma and feel abandoned by our bosses. To this day, we cannot set foot on that farm to visit our family for fear of retaliation.

We had to share three beds for six workers

The house that was provided to workers only had three rooms with three beds for six of us. So when I went to work, another worker would use the bed I just used. This situation wasn't healthy. We didn't have any privacy. We didn't want to complain for fear of retaliation. Our employer was aware of this situation and he decided not to do anything. We feel discriminated against because of where we’re from, because the U.S.-born workers don’t live in the same crowded conditions. 

Unfair treatment, unhealthy and unsafe living conditions

We have worked on this farm for years. Some of us work 12-14 hours a day without a meal break. We only have half a day to rest per week. We asked for more consistency in schedules and nothing has happened.

We are seven adults and two kids in a crowded house. There is black mold, which is unhealthy for the children. We talked a year ago to our boss and nothing has changed. The doors don't have locks and women feel unsafe without privacy in our bedrooms. We have different work schedules, and we all need to use the same kitchen. When we are late to work because we couldn’t cook a meal in time, money is taken out of our paycheck. We are afraid of retaliation for speaking up and filing this claim.

The storage for the cow’s feed became my home, and I have to shower with a bucket 

I live with another worker on top of the barn. When the milking machinery runs, my whole apartment shakes. The walls and ceiling are bare plywood; water drips into my bedroom when it rains. Because the shower runs scalding hot and the temperature can’t be regulated, the only way we can bathe is by mixing cold and hot water in a bucket then pouring it over ourselves.

This place used to be storage for the cows' feed. It's not built for housing people. During the wet season, there are water leaks. The place is very humid, and insulation is poor. 

I work milking cows, feeding calves, and cleaning the barn. My clothes get filled with cow manure. I don't have a proper place to wash my clothes and I have to do it with the towels that we use for cleaning the cows' teats. I do my laundry together with the laundry of the farm gear. I think we deserve a more dignified housing condition, because this place is inhumane for living.

Working schedules don't allow us to have a day off, not even while sick. One day I got sick and couldn't go to work. That day I wasn't paid. I believe these problems can be fixed if the farm owner has the funds, and I believe that you as the head of the supply chain can help with that.

Working while injured because there is no one to cover for me 

Since I started working here, every time a worker has an accident or injury our bosses don’t give us enough time off to recover. In my case, for example, I fell and injured my arm, and I was in pain. I asked my employer to give me time off to recover and go to a doctor. He told me: “I’m sorry, there is nobody to cover for you.” So I had to go to work in pain. My job required me to lift heavy buckets and I was concerned my injury would get worse. I kept working for a week until I was able to make it to a doctor’s appointment.

I think that working in pain without having someone to cover for me creates an unsafe working condition. My injury could get worse. I also couldn’t carry out my tasks, such as lifting heavy buckets. I kept driving the skid steer with an injured arm.

I saw the same thing in other cases; another worker that injured his finger while working got a shift off, but the next day he had to go back to work. I think he needed to rest another day to recover because he couldn’t milk the cows properly, he could get worse, and the work is not done well in those conditions.

I believe that in order to avoid these situations, we need the farm to be able to hire more workers to cover shifts when one or more of us get injured or have an accident, and for our boss to understand that we need more time when we aren’t healthy.

We are afraid to say something because we can lose our job and be homeless 

I have worked here for a year and a few months and I have experienced many bad things. We are paid low salaries, and if anyone has a work accident, there is no worker’s compensation, and we are afraid to lose our jobs so we prefer to keep quiet and not ask for anything.

The housing is infested with cockroaches. We asked our employer to fumigate, but it wasn’t enough. The house has a broken window where the snow enters during the winter. We have to put in electric space heaters to stay warm, but our employers get mad and don’t let us keep them. The stove doesn’t work, and the bathrooms are in bad condition. The house is made for five people but eight of us live here. 

We feel discriminated against because our employer thinks that as immigrants we don’t deserve to ask for good working and housing conditions. We don’t feel heard, because they don’t do anything to improve our situation. 

When Hannaford says the farms in their supply chain are good, which farms is Hannaford referring to? Because this farm isn’t good at all.

Another winter without heat

We are ten workers sharing a house with four rooms. Some of us are sleeping in the living room. Also, there is only a bathroom for the ten of us.

This house doesn’t have a heat system, there is only heat in the kitchen, but it doesn’t cover the whole house. The heat broke many times last year, and the farm owners took too long to repair it. There are holes in the walls where the outside cold comes in. The windows have cracks and are not sealed. 

We feel this is unfair treatment because there are other people on the farm that get better housing and are listened to more. We’ve worked here longer but we aren’t receiving the same treatment. We deserve fair treatment because we are the ones milking the cows for the farm, sustaining this business every day.

Working with chemicals and no protective gear at 17-years-old

I started working on this farm when I was 17. We used to work with chemicals and didn’t get any protective gear. I worked everyday without a full day off or any vacation time. I talked to the boss but he didn’t care about our health or our safety. 

One day I got sick and went to the ER. I told my boss I couldn’t go to work, and his response was that I needed to be there because his cows need to be milked. He said I needed to show proof that I was at the hospital with video, pictures or some other way to show him I was there. He said if I didn’t do it, I would be fired and that he wouldn’t pay me the week that I already worked. I was diagnosed with a virus and felt really sick. I didn’t feel good enough to go back to work that day, but I went back the next day.

After this experience I stayed for two more weeks. My boss started looking for ways to blame me for something so he could fire me. I made the decision to leave the farm. When I left, the boss only paid me for a few days of the final week I worked. I’m a young worker doing my best to earn an income to support myself and my boss didn’t care about my well being, he only cared about his business.

If there were a fire, we wouldn’t be able to get out

The housing at farms is not as it should be. We have infestations of bedbugs and cockroaches, but the boss takes three weeks to do anything about it. We spent one of the coldest winter nights without heat, and the boss didn’t make any moves to repair it. Workers with different schedules share the same bedroom, so when one is sleeping the other is turning on the light and making noise.

We sleep above the milking parlor. The housing is dangerous because there is high-voltage machinery that could short-circuit. If there were a fire, everything would burn and we wouldn’t be able to get out. We could lose our lives. We are afraid to ask for protection because of retaliation and we could lose our jobs.

I was yelled at, shaken, and shoved by my boss

I worked 12 to 15 hours over the night milking cows, feeding calves, and cleaning stalls. During my shift, I might have only a 30 minute break. When I had just started working at this farm, I heard that the boss would yell at workers and that he had kicked out another worker with physical violence.

One night we heard that someone from a local church had come by the farm. They sell snacks and other Mexican products. I went to talk with the man from the church. My boss came; he was yelling and very upset. He pushed the man from the church and he shook and pushed me, too. I don’t speak English so I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but he was angry and yelling at us. I was fired three days after the incident.

I felt very sad and confused about being yelled at, shaken, and shoved by my boss. I don’t understand why he felt empowered to do this. Violence and threats shouldn’t happen anywhere. I don’t want this to happen to anyone else, and I hope I stop feeling sad and afraid.

All of these workers filed formal complaints with Hannaford; none of them received any protection or remedy for the abuses they have endured. The pattern is clear: Hannaford’s hotline fails farmworkers. 

This failure should come as no surprise, as the hotline was never intended to protect workers in the first place. Rather, Hannaford’s move should be seen for what it is: a cynical attempt to trick consumers and investors, and to undermine workers’ fight for rights and dignity. 

Farmworkers are not fooled by Hannaford’s knockoff hotline. We demand the real thing. We demand Milk with Dignity.

Want to learn more? Read our in-depth analysis to learn how, even by the company's own metrics, Hannaford's "Speak-Up Line" fails to respect and remedy workers' human rights.