Business & Economy

25 delegations ask Hannaford to join Milk with Dignity to ensure human rights for dairy workers

Migrant Justice
Marita Canedo and Abel Luna of Migrant Justice at an October 2019 event inaugurating its push for Hannaford supermarkets to join the “Milk with Dignity” program. File photo by Jacob Dawson/VTDigger

On Saturday, 25 delegations of migrant farmworkers visited Hannaford supermarkets across the Northeast, urging the grocery store chain to join a worker-designed program called Milk with Dignity that aims to ensure human rights are respected on dairy farms.

The program is an initiative of the human rights organization Migrant Justice.

It has been a year since migrant farmworkers first asked Hannaford — which has 189 locations, mainly in New England and New York — to join the program with its store-brand milk. The chain’s leadership has yet to respond.

Hannaford, which was founded in Maine, is now owned by the Ahold Delhaize group based in the Netherlands.

Three years ago, Ben & Jerry’s was the first company to sign on with the program, and now 64 farms participate in the program in Vermont and New York. The program covers 262 workers. The Vermont farms in the program account for 20% of the state’s total dairy production.

Migrant Justice has now issued its first biennial report on how Milk with Dignity is changing the dairy industry for the better for workers and farmers.

“Now we need more companies to join,” said Marita Canedo, a leader with the Migrant Justice organization. For Canedo, one of the program’s most important successes has been addressing sexual assault, citing a zero-tolerance policy that has helped women feel safe speaking out against abusers.

Migrant Justice signs agreements with participating buyers, such as Ben & Jerry’s, who commit to obtaining their milk from farms that comply with the program standards. Farmers who participate are then paid a premium for their milk. When a buyer signs on, the farmers they work with have a period of time to ensure they are meeting the standards or they are suspended from the program. These standards include fair pay, safety training and supplies, as well as sick leave and vacation time for workers. 

The Milk with Dignity council does farm audits, fields and addresses complaints of code violations, and mediates conflicts. It cites successes in improving workers’ wages, schedules, housing and safety.

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According to Migrant Justice, the premium redistributes profits from companies at the end of the supply chain back to workers.

Migrant Justice measures help fight coronavirus

Adrian, a farmworker, spoke about how conditions under the Milk with Dignity program differ from farms that don’t follow these codes. On a farm that wasn’t in the program, he lived with 10 other people in a house that was infested with bedbugs.

Another farmworker, José Ignacio De La Cruz, recalled living in a garage where tractors were stored. When one of the workers living there got sick, the doctor told him he’d contracted a virus from sharing space with mice.

“I was scared of getting sick,” said De La Cruz, fears that have only intensified since the pandemic began. But at farms in the program, the measures they’ve already taken to provide adequate housing for workers double as a safeguard against the spread of coronavirus. 

Matt Maxwell, who owns a farm that participates in the Milk with Dignity program, said it benefits farm owners, too. For Maxwell, whose farm is in Newport, it has provided “much-needed increase in structure.” That structure has taken the shape of more formalized job descriptions for new hires, and the results have been positive. 

Maxwell says that since he’s made these changes no employees have left the farm without giving notice. Instead, he’s received a two-week notice, avoiding the “desperation” of having to unexpectedly fill a position with little lead time.   

Vincent Morano, an accountant for the Milk with Dignity Standards Council, said including Hannaford-brand milk would be a significant addition to the scope of the program, since 189 locations sell a lot of milk, although Migrant Justice does not know exactly how many workers or farms would be impacted.

Migrant Justice says Hannaford has not responded to requests from organizers of the Milk with Dignity program, and did not respond to a phone call seeking comment.

 “I’ll make sure this does get to the right people,” said Avery Sartelle, manager of the St. Albans Hannaford, who received the report in the supermarket parking lot. 

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Amanda Gokee

About Amanda

Amanda is a graduate of Harvard University, where she majored in romance language and literature, with a secondary focus on global health. She grew up in Vermont and is working on a master’s degree in liberal studies at Dartmouth with a concentration in creative writing.

Email: [email protected]

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