A coalition of groups came together on May Day in Burlington to demand that ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s implement an agreement guaranteeing dairy farm workers’ rights.
May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day, began in Chicago in 1886. It has become an international day of activism for workers and advocates.
Between 150 and 200 people marched from the Vermont Workers’ Center through the streets of Burlington to the original Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop on the Church Street marketplace.
In 2014 Migrant Justice developed created the ‘Milk With Dignity’ program to improve working conditions and advance dairy workers’ rights. In 2015 Migrant Justice says Ben & Jerry’s signed a commitment to join Milk with Dignity. But Migrant Justice organizer and spokesman Will Lambek say the ice cream company has failed to implement the program within its supply chain. “This is a program that would ensure that the human rights of workers putting the cream in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream are respected. The average dairy worker is working up to 80 hours a week, working 7 days without a single day off, without 8 hours of consecutive rest in the course of a 24 hour period. Nearly half of dairy workers are making below minimum wage. These conditions remain in Ben & Jerry’s supply chain today and they have to take responsibility for that as the brand at the top in the supply chain.”
Farmworker Victor Diaz spoke through an interpreter in front of the scoop shop. “So listen up Ben and Jerry’s because the people are rising up. The workers in your supply chain are rising up. I am a dairy worker. I understand the industry. I understand the conditions. I know what it is to suffer in your supply chain. And so thanks to the hard work of the farm workers in your supply chain, workers who are putting the cream in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, you’re making a delicious product sold around the world. But it’s a product made without dignity.”
Organizers opened a box to unveil hundreds of postcards demanding the company “…make an unequivocal commitment to human rights in your dairy supply chain…”
Will Lambek: “Every single postcard you see is a message to Ben & Jerry’s that enough is enough. Two years too late. We want results now!”
The marchers then crowded into the shop to deliver the postcards. Ben & Jerry’s Director of Public Relations Sean Greenwood sat at one of the tables observing the crowd as the store manager accepted the box filled with postcards. After the marchers left he said the company knew the protesters would be there. “Certainly we did. You know we’ve been in talks with these folks and this is the stuff we do. You know I just got off a train last night from 13 hours down and 13 hours back to New York City to march on the streets this week and do the same thing for the People’s Climate March. So we respect being socially active and sticking up for what you believe in and we do believe in this issue around farm workers and we’ll figure it out.”
Greenwood added that he could not go into detail regarding why the company has not implemented the ‘Milk with Dignity’ program. “There’s a confidentiality agreement that exists between Migrant Justice and between Ben & Jerry’s so unfortunately there’s not a lot that we can talk about at this point. Ben & Jerry’s is on record signing an agreement saying we’d like to work towards the Milk With Dignity program two years ago. Ben & Jerry’s remains at the table actively meeting with the Migrant Justice program. And the challenge is how do you make it work for the workers, for the farms, for the farmers themselves and for business. How do we find a resolution that works for all of the parties involved? So it’s that multiple stakeholder piece. ‘Cause we really believe in it and how do we make it work? Those are the details where it’s taken the time.”
The marchers left the scoop shop to continue to the Federal Building where they rallied against the Trump Administration’s immigration policies.