For the advocacy group Migrant Justice, Tuesday was “a new day for dairy” after the ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s signed an agreement to improve conditions for dairy workers on multiple fronts.
The Student/Farmworker Alliance at Yale had organized a protest outside the Ben & Jerry’s on Temple Street for Thursday evening, but after Ben & Jerry’s committed to the agreement, the organization called the action off. The New Haven protest would have been one of a dozen across the eastern seaboard sponsored by Migrant Justice. The agreement spurred joy among those fighting for farmworker rights.
“This is a win-win-win,” said Will Lambek, a staff member of Migrant Justice. “It is something that will tremendously benefit farmworkers by securing their human rights. It will benefit farmers who will see a price premium on the milk that they sell; they’ll be given support in improving labor conditions. And it’s a win for Ben & Jerry’s because now they can make a verifiable claim to consumers that their ice cream is being produced without human rights violations.”
Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim signed the agreement — dubbed Milk with Dignity — alongside leaders of Migrant Justice on Oct. 3 in Burlington, Vermont, more than two years after the two groups agreed to pursue the initiative in April 2015.
The Milk with Dignity program provides economic relief and support to struggling farmworkers by securing adequate working conditions. The program calls on corporations such as Ben & Jerry’s to make premium payments to participating farms in order to offset costs of compliance with the Milk with Dignity protocol.
Milk with Dignity also puts forth a code of conduct for concrete improvements in wages, scheduling, housing, health and safety protections. Additionally, farm workers will be educated on workers’ rights so they can take charge of their own situations, according to Migrant Justice’s website.
After the agreement was signed earlier this week, Ben & Jerry’s became the first company in the dairy industry to participate in the Milk with Dignity program.
Despite Yale’s location in an urban setting, students took up Migrant Justice’s cause after hearing from organization representatives and farmers at a Sept. 14 Ezra Stiles College Tea.
Valentina Guerrero ’19 attended the tea and was inspired by the presenters’ message. This led Austin Bryniarski ’16, a Lazarus Fellow at the Yale Sustainable Food Program, and Guerrero to organize a day of action under the Student/Farmworker Alliance at Yale, Guerrero said.
“Corporate responsibility means recognizing and respecting the inherent dignity of your workers. It means prioritizing human rights as a main ingredient to corporate success. Labor rights are human rights,” said Guerrero, who planned to attend and speak at the Ben & Jerry’s protest.
Mary Whelan ’19, a member of the activist groups Fossil Free Yale and the Democratic Socialists of America, said that she believes the planned demonstrations were crucial in securing the agreement with Ben & Jerry’s.
Additionally, Whelan said she is excited about the role that students can play in campaigns such as Migrant Justice’s and hopeful about the ability of direct action to create meaningful and lasting change.
“It’s that sort of support and the fact that people around the country were paying attention to this; that they were invested in the human rights struggle of farmworkers in Vermont, that is why we are where we are today,” Lambek said.
Migrant Justice was founded in 2009.
Sammy Westfall | firstname.lastname@example.org