Vermont migrant workers filled Church Street with the sound of cheers Tuesday as Jostein Solheim, the CEO of Ben & Jerry’s, signed a legally binding agreement, nearly three years in the making, to improve dairy farm standards in Vermont.
The so-called “Milk with Dignity” agreement requires dairy farm suppliers to provide workers with higher wages, time off and better housing.
Solheim said Ben & Jerry’s is the first major corporation to sign such an agreement.
“This is what we are calling a new day in dairy, a new day for the human rights of farmworkers,” said Migrant Justice leader Enrique Balcazar.
The program aims to open communication between farmers and farm workers with assistance from the corporation when needed, Solheim said.
“This is a program that will give workers a seat at the table, it will provide dignity and a real voice,” Solheim said. “It also gives the farmer a committed team, and a premium to support them when they need it.”
Though the specifics will not be made public, Will Lambek of Migrant Justice, an advocacy group for undocumented Mexican farmworkers, said the group has five basic demands: dignified wages, dignified schedules, dignified housing, safe workplaces and cooperation.
One of Ben & Jerry’s primary dairy suppliers, St. Albans Co-op, has the largest number of migrant dairy farm workers in the state, according to Migrant Justice’s website.
Solheim applauded their partners at the St. Albans Co-op, whom they have worked with for the past seven years to develop the Milk With Dignity Code of Conduct.
“Innovation is challenging, it’s hard to change, it’s hard to bring in new voices and they have done it,” Solheim said. “Vermont is ready for this.”
In 2014, Migrant Justice began the Milk with Dignity campaign with large corporations, such as Ben & Jerry’s, to promote justice for dairy workers. It is modeled after the Fair Food Program in Florida, a program that began when tomato farm workers banded together to forge agreements with companies ensuring fair treatment for workers, according to a release.
According to a Migrant Justice survey, 40 percent of the 172 farm workers they interviewed worked for less than minimum wage and 40 percent did not have a day off.
A National Day of Action was to be held on Thursday if there was no action. Now, because of the announcement made by Ben & Jerry’s, that campaign has successfully concluded, Lambek said.