Ben & Jerry’s forms partnership with Vermont co-op to promote better working conditions

The company is working on the worker-driven Milk With Dignity programme with Migrant Justice, and has enlisted the St Albans dairy co-op to help

Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s has signed a deal with human rights group Migrant Justice, which it says will guarantee working conditions in its supply chain – and it is recruiting farmers from a US dairy co-op to join the scheme.

Under the deal, Ben & Jerry’s, “an aspiring social justice company”, has agreed to implement the worker-driven Milk with Dignity (MD) programme throughout its dairy supply chain in the north-eastern USA.

The plan now is to put the buyer’s agreement into practice by recruiting farmers from the Vermont-based St Albans Cooperative to join the scheme as soon as possible.

The organisations have been working for two years on the programme, which brings together farmworkers, farmers, and dairy buyers. They have now started a multi-year plan to eventually source 100% of Ben & Jerry’s milk through the MD programme, alongside a holistic dairy programme that addresses all key aspects of dairy farming.

Ben & Jerry’s and Migrant Justice sign the Milk with Dignity Agreement (Picture: PRNewsfoto/Ben & Jerry’s)

Milk with Dignity enlists the resources of food industry leaders to provide a premium for dairy ingredients to participating farmers, who agree to work towards compliance with the labour standards in the Milk with Dignity Code of Conduct.

The premium paid to farmers helps offset farms’ costs of compliance with the code, rewards farms that comply, and allows farmers to pass-through a portion of the premium as a bonus paid to workers.

As the agreement was signed outside Ben & Jerry’s flagship store on Church Street, Burlington, Vermont, farmworker organiser and former dairy worker Enrique Balcazar said: “This is a historic day for dairy workers.

“We have worked tirelessly to get here, and now, we move forward towards a new day for us dairy workers. This is a huge step forward for us and for all workers and we appreciate that Ben & Jerry’s has taken a leadership role to source its milk in a way that improves working and housing conditions on dairy farms.”

Jostein Solheim, chief executive of Ben & Jerry’s, told the crowd: “This is a groundbreaking, historic moment not only for two organisations but most importantly for the hard-working dairy farm workers who are a critical part of our community.”

He said the farmers, and the St Albans Cooperative were key to making the next steps of program implementation possible.

“Vermont’s farmers can continue to set the tone for the dairy industry,” he added. “Today, whether it is for animal care, environmentally sound operations, and now, enhanced labour practices, Vermont’s farming community will continue to lead the nation.

“We are proud of our partnership with the St Albans Cooperative and these farmers have our full commitment. We recognise the many challenges facing the Vermont dairy farmers today, and we need to do what we can collectively to support the farmers moving forward. We can’t do this without them.”

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