13 Food and Agriculture Organizations Call on Hannaford to Join Milk with Dignity

José Vidal and his seven coworkers work on a farm in northern Vermont supplying milk for Hannaford supermarkets. They work twelve hour days, six days a week, and make just $630 per week – more than $2/hr under Vermont’s minimum wage. At the end of their shifts, they return to cramped and run-down employer-provided housing, infested with rodents and bed bugs, without functioning internet or hot water.

When the workers approached their bosses to ask for changes, they were initially told that the bed bugs were “a Mexican problem.” Undeterred, and with support from Migrant Justice, they courageously kept pushing and recently won concessions to improve housing conditions. Left unchanged, however, are the unconscionably low wages. Vidal reflected:

“This is a big achievement for us, because now we can live more comfortably. But we didn’t win everything we wanted, like the raise we asked for. If this were a Milk with Dignity farm, the bosses would have to respect our rights and our lives would be different. We would have a better salary, paid vacation, paid sick days, access to worker’s comp if something happens to one of us. I know other workers on Milk with Dignity farms and they have all those things. That’s why it’s important for Hannaford to join Milk with Dignity, so that more workers can enjoy the benefits of the program.”

Jose Vidal and coworkers hold a copy of the recently-published Milk with Dignity Biennial Report. Workers on farms around the region have been inspired by the successes documented in this report.

The successes of Milk with Dignity were recently lifted up in reporting from the news site Prism, in an article documenting the human rights transformations underway in the dairy industry. Pulling from the program’s first biennial report, the article concludes:

“Milk with Dignity is the first and only worker-led program designed to hold farmers, corporations, and suppliers in the dairy industry accountable for the rights of workers in their supply-chains through a legally-binding agreement. In an industry ridden with low wages, undignified housing, accidents, and fear of retribution by employers for speaking out, Milk with Dignity works to rectify these injustices.”

Despite the documented abuses in their dairy supply chain – and in spite of the singular success of Milk with Dignity in erasing those abuses – Hannaford has yet to respond to Migrant Justice’s call to join the program. Over a year ago, we approached the northeast supermarket chain, inviting the company to join Ben & Jerry’s and agree to source its store-brand milk from Milk with Dignity farms. Thousands have shown their solidarity with farmworkers by emailing, calling, writing postcards, speaking with managers, and protesting in front of Hannaford stores.

And last week, those thousands of Milk with Dignity supporters were joined by thirteen food and agriculture organizations, who collectively penned a letter to the company president Mike Vail.

The letter’s signatories included organizations led by small farmers, who recognize that in an increasingly corporatized food system, family farmers and farmworkers share many common interests. The letter eloquently lays out the case for Milk with Dignity, pointing to conditions like those experienced by José Vidal as unacceptable, and recognizing that this worker-led program benefits workers, farmers, and companies alike. The authors conclude with a powerful call to action:

“We believe that, like everyone, farmworkers deserve to live and work in dignity. By signing on to Milk with Dignity, Hannaford has the opportunity to be a leader in taking responsibility for the rights and wellbeing of workers in their supply chain. Farmworkers, consumers, and all who value human rights over profits are united in calling for Milk with Dignity. It is time for Hannaford to get with the program and ensure that farmworkers’ human rights are protected. We urge you to join Milk with Dignity.”

While dairy workers on farms in Hannaford’s supply chain face racist insults and are told that they are responsible for the poor conditions they face, Milk with Dignity is advancing a solution that ensures respect and dignity for all.

Now you can support dairy workers like José Vidal and add your name to the growing calls for Hannaford to join Milk with Dignity. If you haven’t already, take a minute to send an email to Hannaford president Mike Vail