In April 2015, Ben & Jerry’s publicly committed to source its milk in compliance with Vermont dairy workers’ human rights by joining the Milk with Dignity Program, a worker-led initiative modeled after the Coalition of Immokalee Workers world-renowned Fair Food Program. Migrant Justice, a human rights and economic justice organization has spearheaded the Milk With Dignity program. In response to Ben & Jerry’s long delay, Migrant Justice is on a ten-city “Human Rights Cannot Wait Tour.”
In Providence, workers spoke about the deplorable labor and housing conditions Vermont dairy workers face and shared their campaign to ensure that Ben & Jerry’s, one of the largest purchasers of Vermont milk and known by many for its progressive (and corporate) values, signs the “Milk with Dignity” agreement.
The tour is building support for a national day of action on October 5th with protests and actions outside Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shops across the United States.
The situation for migrant workers in Vermont has become more difficult over the past year as Migrant Justice farm worker leaders and organizers “have been surveilled, targeted and arrested by ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]” in what Migrant Justice asserts is “an apparent campaign cracking down on the organization’s successful history of limiting ICE’s reach into Vermont communities.”
The videos below are presented in Spanish and English.
Behind all the wealth of the corporations that sell dairy products “are supply chains where there is abuse of workers,” said Marta, a Migrant justice leader. “Where workers are living in poor housing, where workers are suffering from wage theft, and at the same time worker leaders are being targeted by immigration enforcement and are being arrested when they raise their voices.” This has the effect of keeping workers on the farms and not got out to demand better conditions.
“We’ve seen arrests and detentions of Migrant Justice leaders,” said Marta. The list of Migrant Justice leaders targeted by ICE include Miguel Alcudia, Victor Diaz, Cesar Alex Carrillo, Enrique Balcazar and Zully Palacios. See: here and here.
Dairy farm work can be very dangerous. Eric, a Latino farm worker, says that workers “are made to work without proper safety equipment and training” on the farms. When Eric started working, he was not told that he would be working with dangerous chemicals. “The chemicals got into my face and my eyes and now I can’t breathe well,” said Eric. The health and safety of their workers, says Eric, “is not important to the owners of the farms at all.”
Migrant Justice leader Abel Luna said that there are about 1500 migrants working in the Vermont dairy industry. Those who work on the farms become “prisoners” said Luna. Leaving the farm for any reason risks being reported to ICE, based on little more than the color of your skin. Workers would not leave the farm for two weeks to a month to go buy groceries.
Migrant Justice polled their members, and discovered the following systemic abuses:
In response, Migrant Justice came up five essential elements needed to ensure worker dignity and human rights.
Ultimately, workers are seeking dignity in their treatment at work, fair wages, clean and healthy housing and freedom to leave the farms without fear of harassment, said Eric. He said that Ben & Jerry’ signing onto the Milk With Dignity Program would usher in a new day for dairy workers in Vermont.
The tour was sponsored locally by Rhode Island Jobs With Justice and the Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM).
Abel Luna asked that those in attendance plan to rally outside their local Ben & Jerry’s on October 5th to demand that the company source their milk ethically.