Truthout: “A Worker-Driven Model for Supply Chain Dignity Emerges”... and Ben & Jerry’s Can Make it a Reality. But Will They?

10/3/17 Update: 

Migrant Justice and Ben & Jerry's sign historic agreement!

Photo by Jonathan Leavitt

Labor journalist Jonathan Leavitt embedded himself in Migrant Justice’s recent 13-mile march for Milk with Dignity. Together with hundreds of farmworkers and supporters, he witnessed an unanticipated yet welcome turn of events at the climax of the march. In a recent in-depth article for popular online news site Truthout, he captures the moment:

“Speaking to the farmworkers assembled before his production facility, Ben & Jerry's CEO Jostein Solheim said, "We have all the key pillars of the program defined and clear, we've got the right incentive structure for workers and farmers, and Ben & Jerry's is ready to go."

"Sign it now! Sign it now!" the crowd of several hundred farmworkers and allies chanted."

In all the commotion, someone from the crowd stepped forward and handed the CEO a pen and, appearing to concede, he signed a huge blown up copy of a letter written by 15 major human rightsorganizations, including the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, calling on Ben & Jerry’s to join the program. This encouraging -- though ultimately only symbolic -- gesture left many in the crowd wondering if the long-anticipated Milk with Dignity Program was now a reality.

As summer flies by, the days turn to weeks since Ben & Jerry’s reaffirmed its unfulfilled pledge to join the Milk with Dignity Program.  As many Vermonters are cooling off with a dip in a swimming hole and a scoop of their favorite ice cream, farmworkers labor for 60 to 80 hours a week through the sweltering heat without the human rights agreement they’ve been fighting for for years.

The recent Truthout piece goes on to describe what it is Vermont dairy workers, inspired by their compañeras and compañeros at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), are fighting for, andconversely what Ben & Jerry’s has yet to commit to: “a new worker-driven model for supply chain dignity." From the Truthout piece:


A Worker-Driven Model for Supply Chain Dignity Emerges

""We discovered a successful model from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in Florida," says Balcazar, eagerly delineating the worker control which distinguishes Milk with Dignity from corporatre defined rebranding efforts. "Education to the worker, so that we know what our rights are, and how to defend them." A worker-defined code of conduct, and a third party to monitor the industry, "which is the teeth of the program, because there are a lot of programs out there, but if you don't have a way to enforce your standards, then it's not real change." Economic relief for the farm owners, as well as the farm workers, and a legally binding contract. "That's the other set of teeth in the program, because a corporation could say, 'Yes, I'll join,' and then decide it doesn't work, and leave, abandoning their workers."

Lucas Benitez, the award winning co-founder of CIW, said those elements have fundamentally transformed work in Florida's tomato fields. "In our case, the Standards Council interviewe

d 80 percent of the workers in the industry. I don't know of any other program that has that capacity to interview such a high percentage of workers, and for the first time ever, we workers have a voice in the industry we work within."

"We started with a boycott of Taco Bell," said Benitez. "We created alliances with the primary markets of these restaurants: students, young people and then to churches, and now we have a network of allies in 45 states." To date, CIW has won worker-driven agreements with 14 corporations, from Walmart to Burger King to Taco Bell. Benitez is convinced Ben & Jerry's could play a similarly transformative role for Vermont migrant farmworkers.""

Since the historic March for Milk with Dignity, the national faith movement and the nation’s largest union have added their voices to the growing support for the worker-led Milk with Dignity Program. And in the weeks since Ben & Jerry’s publicly declared “it’s ready to go,” consumers across the country have been contacting Migrant Justice, completely baffled as to why in the world Ben & Jerry’s, of all corporations, hasn’t yet done what 14 other corporations, ranging from Walmart to Burger King to Taco Bell, have done in the Fair Food Program---joined and fully committed themselves to a worker-driven program by signing a legally-binding and enforceable agreement to source its product in compliance with the fundamental human rights of farmworkers.  

The Milk with Dignity Program is ready to launch but lacks the legally-binding agreement necessary so that the Program “...will be adopted within Ben & Jerry’s Northeast dairy supply chain.” This is one of the five essential elements that Ben & Jerry’s committed to in the 2015 Agreement of Cooperation, but farmworkers are still waiting for the follow-through. This weekend, Vermont dairy worker leaders will be gathering again to discuss the continued delay of this worker-led human rights effort and to define the next actions needed to win a voice and dignity in Ben & Jerry’s supply chain.

Stay tuned for next steps in the campaign…