"Doing nothing is not an option:" Dairy workers march on Hannaford – and receive backing from Harvard Business Review

As 2022 comes to a close, we celebrate another year of progress in the fight for human rights and economic justice, while recommitting ourselves to the long road ahead. Since founding Migrant Justice, immigrant farmworkers have achieved more than they could have imagined – but we know that there is much work left to do.

Did you miss our 2022 year in review? Check it out and read about this year's tremendous accomplishments!

We ended the year on a high note, with a spirited march through the snow leading to a boisterous rally in front of Hannaford Supermarkets. As Hannaford representatives once more threatened marchers with arrest, dairy workers stood firm and courageously shared testimonies about the atrocious conditions they experience in the company’s dairy supply chain.

Since Hannaford created a hotline for its supply chain workers last year, dairy workers have submitted complaint after complaint about violations of Hannaford’s own supposed “standards of engagement” – all without remedy. At the conclusion of the march, workers presented these complaints in person, exposing the shocking conditions behind Hannaford-brand milk. 

Workers’ descriptions of conditions in Hannaford’s supply chain include:

“We work 12-14 hours a day without a meal break. We only have half a day to rest per week.”

“We are 7 adults and 2 kids in a crowded house. There are kids living here in an unhealthy situation. There is black mold.”

“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 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.”

“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.”

While Hannaford ignores complaints, carries out sham investigations, and threatens workers with arrest, the Milk with Dignity Program is already improving conditions on dozens of farms and guaranteeing rights for hundreds of farmworkers. Under Milk with Dignity, workers’ complaints are promptly investigated and result in speedy resolutions. Workers are protected from retaliation and farms can face real market consequences for noncompliance.

The sharp contrast between Milk with Dignity’s worker-driven model and corporate hotlines like that used by Hannaford was the focus of a recent article in the Harvard Business Review. The piece, titled “How to Create a Worker Safety Hotline That Really Works,” resulted from an in-depth, independent review of Milk with Dignity’s enforcement mechanisms. 

The article makes a strong business case for Milk with Dignity, concluding:

Many worker hotlines sit quiet because workers fear retaliation for speaking out. Vulnerable workers often worry that their hours could be docked, their wages reduced, or their position eliminated. This type of direct retaliation is concerning, but our research uncovered another way supervisors discourage (even unknowingly) workers from reporting incidents: Many employers simply do nothing to address the concerns that are raised, often because they fear that making changes will be too difficult or costly to implement.

The MD program’s enforcement structure shakes farms out of this status quo thinking. Employers receive a premium in exchange for participation in the MD program; those who engage in or allow retaliation against complainants face suspension from the program, and loss of this premium. Furthermore, the MD program requires employers to engage with and respond to all valid complaints — doing nothing is not an option. As a result, farms develop a proactive approach to complaint resolution, and become less resistant to change. The MD hotline also rigorously protects complainant confidentiality. Taken together, these measures build employee trust, as workers see that raising concerns can yield tangible improvements.

This research backs up workers’ experiences and perfectly encapsulates why Hannaford must – if it is serious about remedying abuses in its dairy supply chain – join the Milk with Dignity Program. This is precisely the case that farmworkers and consumers made at the recent rally.

Workers, consumers, and researchers are speaking clearly; let’s make 2023 the year that Hannaford finally starts to listen.

Take a look below for a photo-report of the December march and rally in Middlebury, VT!

The action kicked off near the center of Middlebury, VT. After some rousing speeches, farmworkers led a mile march down Route 7 to Hannaford

While farmworkers gathered from around the state, many more were supporting from afar as they milked and fed cows on their farms. Marchers carried signs with photos and words of workers

As always, the action was a family affair, with community members young and old turning out in force

As marchers made their way down Route 7, their chants reverberated: “Get up, get down, Milk with Dignity is coming to town!”

Even injuries could not keep farmworkers away. Agricultural work is one of the most dangerous jobs, with Vermont dairy workers facing astronomical rates of workplace injury, with few protections outside of Milk with Dignity

In the week leading up to the action, farmworkers had gathered at a local church to paint signs and banners. This one reads: “This Christmas we want Milk with Dignity”

Farmworkers and their families were undeterred by the snow and cold

After a mile march, workers and consumers arrived at Hannaford. Company representatives responded by threatening marchers with arrest

Marchers rallied in front of the supermarket, sending the company a clear message that we aren’t backing down

Workers both inside and outside Milk with Dignity talked about how the program protects their rights and why Hannaford must join

Farmworkers hand-delivered to a Hannaford representative complaints compiled from workers in the company’s dairy supply chain. The complaints have previously been submitted through official channels, without redress

The rally concluded, farmworkers led the march back with their heads held high

And as always, we finished the day with a delicious, home-cooked meal