Eleven Vermont Organizations Hand Deliver Messages to Ben & Jerry’s: Stand Up for Dairy Worker’s Human Rights and Join the Milk with Dignity Program Now!
Posted Mon, 04/17/2017 - 5:16pm
In case you missed the news, a group of determined Vermont farmworkers and their allies were waiting at the front door of Ben & Jerry’s South Burlington, VT headquarters on Tuesday and Wednesday, as B&J’s board members arrived for a two-day meeting, in order to deliver a clear message: dairy workers’ human rights cannot wait. We need your support to ensure Ben & Jerry’s follows through on its 2015 commitment to join the Milk with Dignity Program now. Farmworker member of Migrant Justice Yessica kicked off the day addressing board members, many of whom have never met a Vermont dairy worker before, saying, “We work hard, every day, putting the cream in your ice cream. And we want our rights protected, dignified wages, respect, a voice. I want to repeat what others have said. We will not give up. We will continue this fight until Ben & Jerry’s signs the Milk with Dignity agreement as it promised nearly two years ago.”
Workers and allies then kicked off a roving picket line in front of the corporate headquarters that continued for the next two full days chanting and rallying and converting Ben & Jerry’s parking lot into a center for inter-organizational dialogue about our shared human rights work in Vermont. For two days, every couple of hours, a new organization would arrive to listen to farmworkers share about their struggle, to join in on the picketing and singing, and to share their own social justice campaigns and work for human rights that intersect with the dignity for which farmworkers have been fighting.
Farmworkers’ spirits were bolstered by this dynamic rotation of eleven different Vermont-based organizations, and each visit culminated in representatives from the different organizational delegations delivering huge hand written letters of support to Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim. On Wednesday morning, farmworker leader Olga stood in front of the entrance to Ben & Jerry’s headquarters grabbing the undivided attention of the majority of the Ben & Jerry’s board, including CEO Jostein Solheim. Olga shared her story, starting 8 years ago on a farm: "I made $7/hr, and had to bring my kids to work in the barn. I was scared that if I asked for raise, I might be fired, but with the support of Migrant Justice I spoke up for my rights and have improved my workplace for all of us.” She shared that not all workers have the education, information, protection, or support to do the same thing, and that this is exactly what the Milk with Dignity Program will accomplish--defining and raising human rights standards across Ben & Jerry’s Northeast dairy supply chain.
Migrant Justice wants to give a huge shout out to all those organizations who took the time to stand with Vermont dairy workers in this critical moment of our human rights struggle last week! Thanks so much to: Vermont Worker’s Center, the Peace and Justice Center, AFSCME Local 1674 (social workers at the Howard Center), 350Vermont, Rural Vermont, the Pride Center of Vermont, Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, the Green Mountain Labor Council, the VT AFL-CIO, Vermont Inter-Faith Action, and Rights and Democracy.
As you probably have heard, after nearly two years of talks and no action, a few weeks ago, Vermont dairy workers decided it was time to turn to allies and consumers to help raise farmworkers’ voices to call on Ben & Jerry's to follow through on its 2015 commitment to join the Milk with Dignity Program. The campaign kicked off on March 31st, Cesar Chavez Day, when Ben & Jerry’s received approximately 400 phone calls (that’s about 1 call a minute all day!) from supporters across the nation. ¡Si se Puede! Then, on April 4th, Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone day, thousands of consumers hand delivered postcards and letters of support across major cities such as Boston, New York, San Francisco, and D.C, and in smaller cities in Florida. Additionally, Migrant Justice’s Milk with Dignity Program has been lifted up as an effective antidote to human rights abuse in supply chains in recent weeks at high profile presentations at Harvard Law School and the annual Farm to Institution New England (FINE) Summit. FINE conference participants left hungry and eager to learn more about the program and anxious to know what they could do help see it rolled out in dairy supply chains, with many committing to join the Milk with Dignity campaign. A representative of Migrant Justice and the Milk with Dignity third-party human rights monitor (Milk with Dignity Standards Council) were also invited to speak about the road to building the Milk with Dignity Program at the National Freedom Network Conference as a critical piece of preventing human rights abuses in supply chains, alongside our partners from the trailblazing and world-renowned Fair Food Program. Then Migrant Justice headed down to Dartmouth College for a big campus tour due to a surge in interest from regional colleges eager to learn how students can unite and stand together with to defend the human rights of farmworkers.
Thanks to all of these actions and last week’s delegations from eleven of Vermont’s strongest human rights organizations, farmworkers’ message appears to be reaching Ben & Jerry’s. Migrant Justice is encouraged by recent communications from Ben & Jerry’s that seem to affirm that farmworkers’ urgent call to action is having an impact. But as we were told by Ben & Jerry’s own board member, Jeff Furman, outside the corporate headquarters, “I understand that, at this point, you’ve heard words and that you’ll believe it when you see it.”
TAKE ACTION on May Day!
Farmworkers want to thank you all for your solidarity and invite you to join us for our next big Milk with Dignity action on May 1st, international worker’s day, in Burlington! See you in the streets for our May Day “March for Dignity” and take a stand in solidarity with dairy workers to ensure Ben & Jerry’s follows through on its 2015 commitment to join the Milk with Dignity Program! Ben & Jerry's has the opportunity to turn May 1st scoop shop action from a protest into a party but while they continue tweeting a big game on migrant rights, racial equity, and job creation consumers are joining Vermont farmwokers in asking: how is it that Ben & Jerry's takes a public stance for all these critical issues of our day at the very same time that they ignore the opportunity to secure the human rights of dairy workers in their own backyard?
Can’t come? Farmworkers are calling for allies to read through this Action Pack and either hit your local Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop or form an education and outreach team at events leading up to or on May Day to spread the word and collect postcards! If you are interested in organizing a May Day solidarity scoop shop action or can hand out flyers and collect postcards at a May Day action please be in touch firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vermont Workers’ Center kicked off the day turning out members for the 8:30am welcome of Ben & Jerry’s board and turning out members all day to the picket line on Tuesday shared, “We’ve been allies of Migrant Justice since day one and their human rights struggle is our struggle. We urge Ben & Jerry’s to take this opportunity today and join the Milk with Dignity Program as promised two years ago.”
The Peace and Justice Center Center joins rally and delivers message to Ben & Jerry’s CEO: “We stand in solidarity with Migrant Justice. If you support Fair Trade in the Global South, why not here? We want Fair Milk! Join the Milk with Dignity Program.”
AFSCME Local 1764 (Howard Center), “It’s the same struggle. Dignity. Rights. Respect. Workers have to unite and fight together to win. We call on Ben & Jerry’s to immediately join the Milk with Dignity Program and take a stand for the workers who put the cream in your ice cream.”
Rural Vermont delegation to Ben & Jerry’s: “A healthy food system requires healthy farmers and healthy workers. We stand with Migrant Justice in calling for Milk with Dignity.”
VT AFL-CIO and Green Mountain Labor Council, representing 18,000 members, delivers a letter of support to Ben & Jerry’s: “Our struggles for workers’ rights are all connected. We stand in solidarity with farmworkers and call on Ben & Jerry’s to sign the Milk with Dignity Agreement.”
Pride Center of Vermont delivers message to Ben & Jerry’s: “Our struggle is your struggle. We advocate for human rights, equity, and fair working conditions for LGBTQ+ individuals and migrant farmworkers.”
350Vermont joins picket line at Ben & Jerry’s and sends delegation inside to deliver letter: “Please walk your justice talk. Fully support Milk with Dignity!”
Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals demonstrate support for Milk with Dignity sharing: “It wasn’t hard for us to decide whether we should be here. We know that the only way workers win rights and respect is by organizing, so we’re here to tell Ben & Jerry’s to practice what it preaches by following through on its commitment to join the Milk with Dignity Program.”
Vermont Interfaith Action (VIA) clergy stood in solidarity with farmworkers, singing “We shall not be moved” on the picket line, holding a sermon outside Ben & Jerry’s Corporate HQ, and sharing a prayer once inside: “We are deeply concerned that this has taken so long and want to encourage you to push through whatever obstacles there are and sign this human rights agreement today.”
Rights and Democracy (RAD) finished off the two days of picketing as the eleventh organization sending in a big delegation to close out the days. They stressed, “This is something that Ben & Jerry’s would get behind, be proud of, and promote as part of its brand. You will just be the first of many, this will grow and you have an opportunity to get it started. We are here, standing in solidarity with Vermont dairy workers to call on you to join the Milk with Dignity Program.”