Presbyterian Church to Ben & Jerry's: "I urge you, do not delay any longer."

On June 17th Vermont farmworkers led about 250 people on a pilgrimage through Vermont’s working rural landscapes with a powerful national call to action for human rights in hand, walking 13 miles from Vermont’s State House to the Ben & Jerry’s plant in Waterbury.  The march placed dairy workers’ campaign for human rights in Ben & Jerry’s supply chain on the national center stage piquing interest from coast (Washington Post) to coast (San Francisco Chronicle) under one banner:

“Scores of farm workers, activists march on Ben & Jerry’s”

Now, on the heels of the march, Vermont farmworkers’ tireless efforts and sacrifices for justice and dignity in the dairy industry are inspiring prominent leaders in faith communities across the nation and moving them to stand in solidarity with Vermont dairy workers.

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson (third from the right), Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly, heard Vermont dairy workers’ cry for justice loud and clear and responded with a moving letter just delivered to Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim on behalf of the 1.4 million-member Protestant denomination calling on Ben & Jerry’s to join the Milk with Dignity Program.

“With a stroke of your pen, you have the ability to dramatically improve the human rights of Vermont farmworkers and ensure the sustainability of Vermont dairy farmers by joining this program, whose Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) principals have already been proven uniquely effective elsewhere.”

The 1.4 million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has worked in partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers since 2002 to help bring, now, fourteen corporations into the Fair Food Program.  The Program has been internationally recognized for its comprehensive and swift gains in farmworker rights even as it has helped corporations establish true risk management by eradicating what had been endemic human rights abuses...

I share this because Ben ‘n Jerry’s is positioned to inaugurate similar gains in the Vermont dairy industry – indeed these gains cannot be done without you...

I urge you, do not delay any longer. Every day is a day that farmworkers continue to suffer, farms are stretched further, and your customers grow more impatient.  Sign in fact what you have already agreed to in principle, so that these anticipated transformational gains in human rights and sustainability may become a reality in Vermont’s dairy industry.”

(Read the full letter here)

And Reverend Dr. J Herbert Nelson is not alone.  Farmworkers’ March for Milk with Dignity also inspired Deaconess Darlene DiDomineck, Interim Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, to pen and deliver a passionate letter imploring Ben & Jerry’s to live up to its own stated values (in quotes):

“As Justice-Seeking People of Faith we too believe the “world needs dramatic change to address the social and environmental challenges we are facing.” We also believe that “values led businesses can play a critical role in driving that positive change.” We too believe it is imperative to “lead by example, and prove to the world that this is the best way to run a business.” We ask you to honor these important justice seeking values you have already identified by signing onto the Milk with Dignity program today.

The Milk with Dignity program ensures workers are at the decision-making table. Worker-led movements make conditions safer and more just for everyone. You have a real chance to make dairy farms more just for the people who produce the main ingredients for your world-renowned ice cream. We call on you to continue Ben & Jerry’s legacy of justice-seeking by signing onto the Milk with Dignity program and fulfill your promise to workers, farmers and consumers.”

At the March for Milk with Dignity on June 17th, Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim publicly declared:

“Ben & Jerry’s is ready to go.”

Farmworkers remain cautiously optimistic that these words will translate to concrete action by Ben & Jerry’s signing on to the Milk with Dignity Program and becoming a trailblazer for workers’ rights in the dairy industry. Until then, the movement for Milk with Dignity continues to grow in strength and numbers and is ready to keep on marching for dairy workers’ human rights.