Ben & Jerry’s CEO: “It’s an agreement that puts the worker in charge of workers’ rights.”

Enrique Balcazar of the advocacy organization Migrant Justice, left, and Jostein Solheim, the chief executive of Ben & Jerry’s, right, in Burlington, Vt., on Tuesday announcing an agreement to help farm workers. Photo and caption, Caleb Kenna for The New York Times

Enrique Balcazar of Migrant Justice: “It is a great victory and an honor for us dairy workers to expand [the Worker-driven Social Responsibility] model to the dairy industry of Vermont.”

CEO Jostein Solheim: “We really believe this is going to travel. This is going to travel across the nation.”

Yesterday’s big announcement of the Milk with Dignity agreement between Migrant Justice and Ben & Jerry’s — an agreement three years in the making — caught the attention of major media outlets, from the New York Times to the AP to Vermont Public Radio.  It also made its way onto the radar screen of some of Vermont’s great writers and bloggers, including Barry Estabrook (the award-winning food writer and author of the bestseller “Tomatoland” on the CIW’s struggle to reform the Florida tomato industry) and the local truth-teller on all things Vermont, vtdigger.org.  

So, with a media round-up this substantial, we will waste no more time and get right to it.  First up, the New York Times (“Ben & Jerry’s Strikes Deal to Improve Migrant Dairy Workers’ Conditions”):

Mr. Solheim, the Ben & Jerry’s chief executive, in Burlington on Tuesday. “We believe in worker-led movements, and in bringing in dairy and doing it in Vermont,” he said. Photo and caption, Caleb Kenna for The New York Times

For years, Ben & Jerry’s took steps to make sure that its ice cream did not contain artificial growth hormone. The company also has a self-imposed fee on its greenhouse gas emissions.

What Ben & Jerry’s did not have was a reliable way of ensuring that the dairy farms supplying it with milk were providing humane conditions for their workers, a major issue in an industry where many people work seven days a week for less than minimum wage.

On Tuesday, the ice cream maker, which is based in Vermont, took a big step toward changing that, signing an agreement with a farmworkers’ group that establishes labor standards for the company’s suppliers in the state, and creates an enforcement strategy that encourages workers to speak up about violations.

“We love to be part of innovation,” said Jostein Solheim, the company’s chief executive. “We believe in worker-led movements, and in bringing in dairy and doing it in Vermont.”

The agreement borrows heavily from an arrangement called the Fair Food Program that was put in place in 2011 to address troubling conditions in Florida’s tomato industry. 

In that instance, Subway, Walmart, Whole Foods and other companies committed to paying an extra 1 to 4 cents per pound of tomatoes and to buying only from participating suppliers. The suppliers, in turn, agreed to pay the legal minimum wage and to ensure workers’ rights and safety. The program has been widely credited with improving working conditions in an industry where human trafficking flourished until recently. It has expanded to other crops and other states on the East Coast… (read more

Dignified wages.  Dignified schedules.  Dignified housing.  Safe workplaces.  Cooperation.  Those are the key ingredients to Milk with Dignity (along with worker-to-worker education, a fast and effective complaint process, in-depth audits, and market consequences to give the standards teeth, of course), and now those same ingredients will be blended into Ben & Jerry’s ice cream once the program gets up and running.  Can’t wait to see the new flavor named after this watershed moment in Vermont dairy history!

That’s a wrap — for now — for the Milk with Dignity media round-up.  There is much, much more coverage out there, of course, including stories from the Burlington Free Press (which has some great photos and a video from the event) and the New England Cable News (which is where you’ll find the quotation at the top of this report from Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim: “We really believe this is going to travel. This is going to travel across the nation..”), so be sure to do your own Google search to really get a feel for the impact of yesterday’s big news out of Vermont.

And check back again soon for a report from the CIW’s Lupe Gonzalo’s continued tour with Abby Wambach and Glennon Doyle on the Together Live tour, as well as more analysis of the exciting expansion of Worker-driven Social Responsibility in the Vermont dairy industry!

 

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