Vermont Migrant Farmworkers picket and march for Ben and Jerry’s to sign pledge for Milk With Dignity

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Timing
Time Period:  
23 October
2014
to
3 October
2017
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Vermont
Goals: 
-Recognition of Human Rights by Vermont Farmers (broadly, goal of organization)

-Allyship with Ben & Jerry's in the fight for Immigrant Human Rights

 

Migrant Justice conducted a survey of Vermont farm workers in June 2014 to find potential areas of concern. The group found that businesses paid 40 percent of workers less than the state minimum wage of $8.73, 40 percent worked every day each week, and 28 percent consistently worked shifts or 7 hours or more without breaks. Significant portions of Vermont farmworkers reported not having 8 consecutive hours of time off to sleep, having translators who take the side of managers, suffering verbal abuse, being denied access to medical care, and in general living in overcrowded, uninsulated, decrepit housing. The average work week was 60-80 hours long.

In response to the survey, Migrant Justice began to plan for advocacy. They contacted the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for advice on methods and strategies. The group also looked for strategic targets — specific dairy farms, companies, and institutions, which were engaged in anti-worker practices but who appeared open to change. Potential targets included Ben & Jerry’s, a Vermont-based ice cream company with which Migrant Justice had been in talks with previously, and one with national recognition and a progressive image.

At the 23-25 October 2014 Vermont (VT) Farm to Plate conference in Killington, VT — an annual gathering of farmers, business-operators, workers, policymakers, and other interested parties founded in 2009 to promote and develop local food initiatives — Migrant Justice publicly announced the Milk With Dignity Program and Campaign, an effort to get companies engaged in business with Vermont farms to invest in mechanisms for accountability and trust between workers and farm owners. The Milk With Dignity program had five central demands, asking corporations and farms to agree to:

  • “Farmworker-Authored Code of Conduct: farmworkers’ definition of the human right to work with dignity and fair housing;

  • Farmworker Education: Guarantees workers’ the right to receive education about their rights under the Code of Conduct;

  • Third Party Monitoring Body: Monitors, enforces and audits farmer compliance with Code of Conduct; receives worker complaints and addresses grievances; creates improvement plans to address violations; enforces consequences for non-compliance

  • Economic relief: Participating corporations restore economic justice in the supply chain paying an extra premium directly to both farmworkers AND farmers

  • Legally-binding Agreements: Participating Corporations (Ben & Jerry's) sign a legally binding agreement that defines the program as an enforceable contract under the law”

Migrant Justice held panels at subsequent events, including one at the University of Vermont, telling stories of their prior attempts to gain access to basic human needs on Vermont’s farms.

On May Day (1 May) 2015, Migrant Justice participated in the Montpelier Human Rights March, shaking noisemaker milk jugs filled with dry rice as they marched to the capital building of the state and held a rally calling on Ben & Jerry’s to participate in their Milk With Dignity Program and to respond to requests for meetings. The group repeated messaging from earlier statements about Ben & Jerry’s, listing the consumer and animal protection and economic justice moves already taken by Ben & Jerry’s — cage free eggs, growth hormone-free milk, and support for Occupy Wallstreet, a movement against the influence of large investment banks in peoples’ lives, among others — and contrasting them with the stories of worker abuse at the hands of farmers in Ben & Jerry’s’ supply chain. At the Montpelier Human Rights March, Migrant Justice announced to the public that they would ask Ben & Jerry’s to sign their Milk With Dignity pledge. Protests and rallies continued that summer, gaining the support of public figures, like Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders. One day before Migrant Justice’s National Day of Action — an event scheduled for 20 June, 2015 that spanned 17 US cities — Ben & Jerry’s agreed to negotiate the terms of their participation in the Milk With Dignity program. The day of action continued, this time pushing for Ben & Jerry’s to stick to their agreement.

Believing the need for nonviolent direct action in getting support from Ben & Jerry’s was over, Migrant Justice reduced the number of events targeted at Ben & Jerry’s. Some organizers continued to meet with the company, but eventually meetings stopped happening. In the meantime, organizers continued to push for Milk With Dignity in other contexts — with other companies and through other farms. In March 2016, however, ICE — as part of a nation-wide increase in border security and anti-immigrant sentiment — began arresting Migrant Justice organizers with various migrant statuses. Between March 2016 and March 2017, Migrant Justice carried out successful campaigns to free two of their compatriots, Victor Diaz and Miguel Alcudia.

Migrant Justice turned their focus back to Ben & Jerry’s. By the beginning of 2017 Ben & Jerry’s had still not reached an agreement with Migrant Justice. In a partnership with Stanford University students in California, US, Migrant Justice held an information session about Milk With Dignity on 23 February, the night before Ben & Jerry’s CEO was scheduled to speak at the University. On 16 March, Migrant Justice launched their Milk With Dignity Speaking Tour, during which they were going to promote their program and criticize Ben & Jerry’s for a lack of commitment to the program. Either that day or the next, ICE arrested organizers Enrique Balcazar, Zully Palacios, and Cesar Alex Carrillo. Between 18 March and 28 March, Migrant Justice gained support from Bill McKibben — a prominent climate justice advocate and founder of 350.org — the National Women’s March, the American Civil Liberties Union, and countless other notable activist groups, who joined them in demanding the release of the ICE detainees and action from Ben & Jerry’s. On 27 March, a Federal Judge released Balcazar and Palacios while Carillo remained in detention and was later deported to Mexico.

Following the release of Balcazar and Palacios, organizers held a mass call-in on 3 April and picketed outside Ben & Jerry’s shops throughout the Northeastern US on Free Cone Day, 4 April. In response to a 12 April picket outside a Ben & Jerry’s board meeting, the VP and President gave a non-binding verbal agreement that they would officially sign onto Migrant Justice’s pledge. On 20 April, Ben & Jerry’s sold a “Chillaco” at select shops — a kind of ice cream “taco,” themed after the marijuana-centric holiday that takes place on 20 April in the United States — with the slogan “Dude, where’s my Chillaco?”. It is unknown whether or not this was a direct mockery of the mostly-Latinx movement for migrant farmworker dignity or simply a tone-deaf product campaign — as tacos are a traditional Mexican food and the outlawing of marijuana in the US is often tied to anti-immigrant sentiment. In response, Migrant Justice began the Twitter hashtag and YouTube meme #DudeWheresMyMilkWithDignity — asking Ben & Jerry’s for a legal commitment to the program’s terms.

Migrant Justice reiterated their demands on May Day 2017 outside Ben & Jerry’s headquarters in Burlington, VT and continued picketing throughout the month of May. On 17 June, Migrant Justice conducted a 200-person 13-mile March for Milk With Dignity from the capital city Montpelier, VT to the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Waterbury, VT, after which ICE arrested two more activists and released them after two weeks of legal pressure and rallies from Migrant Justice.

https://youtu.be/47hpkTvPslc

Protests — picket lines, marches, and public speeches near scoop-shops and factories around Vermont — increased in frequency starting in September 2017. Migrant Justice began another speaking tour of the Northeastern US and held protests in Waterbury and Burlington, VT. The group planned another National Day of Action on 5 October, but on 3 October 2017, Ben & Jerry’s held a public signing of the Milk With Dignity Commitment in front of their Burlington, VT scoop shop.

Research Notes
Influences: 

Immokalee Workers Resist Enslavement and Trafficking by Florida Tomato Industry (1), other MilkWithDignity Campaigns (2)

Sources: 
Adcock, Flynn; David Anderson;and Parr Rosson. 2015. “The Economic Impacts of Immigrant Labor on U.S. Dairy Farms”. Center for North American Studies, August. (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528022013/https://www.nmpf.org/wp-content/uploads//immigration-survey-090915.pdf).

Anon. n.d. “Campaign for Fair Food”. Center for Immokalee Workers. (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528022200/http://ciw-online.org/campaign-for-fair-food/)

Anon. 2015. “Farmworkers Document Abuse & Propose Solution: Milk with Dignity!”. Migrant Justice, May. (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528022055/https://migrantjustice.net/sites/default/files/FinalSurveyMay2015.pdf)

Anon. 2015. “Farmworkers Call on Ben & Jerry’s to Stand Up for Dairy Workers’ Rights in Supply Chain!” Migrant Justice / Justicia Migrante, 29 April. Retrieved May 9, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528022726/https://migrantjustice.net/blogs/anonymous/farmworkers-call-on-ben-jerrys-to-stand-up-for-dairy-workers-rights-in-supply-chain).

Anon. 2015. “16 Cities Across the Nation Call on Ben & Jerry’s to Take Next Step Towards Ensuring Dairy Worker’s Rights Are Respected in Its Supply Chain.” Migrant Justice / Justicia Migrante, 20 June. Retrieved May 9, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528022806/https://migrantjustice.net/news/16-cities-across-the-nation-call-on-ben-jerrys-to-take-next-step-towards-ensuring-dairy-workers).

Anon. 2017. “Vermont Activist and Dairy Worker Cesar Alex Carrillo Deported to Mexico.” Democracy Now!, 15 May. Retrieved May 9, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528022834/https://www.democracynow.org/2017/5/15/headlines/vermont_activist_and_dairy_worker_cesar_alex_carrillo_deported_to_mexico).’

Anon.. 2017. “Part II. Coast To Coast: Ready for Milk with Dignity!” Migrant Justice / Justicia Migrante, 24 February. Retrieved May 9, 2019 (https://migrantjustice.net/news/part-ii-coast-to-coast-ready-for-milk-with-dignity).

Anon. 2017. “VT Dairy Workers Announce Northeast Milk with Dignity Speaking Tour!” Migrant Justice / Justicia Migrante, 16 March. Retrieved May 9, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528023103/https://migrantjustice.net/news/vt-dairy-workers-announce-northeast-milk-with-dignity-speaking-tour).

Anon. 2017. “Organizer: ICE Detention of Immigrant Rights Activists in VT Is Clear Case of Political Retaliation.” Democracy Now!, 20 March. Retrieved May 9, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528023144/https://www.democracynow.org/2017/3/20/organizer_ice_detention_of_immigrant_rights).

Anon. 2017. “Freed Human Rights Leaders to Be Welcomed Back to Vermont.” Migrant Justice / Justicia Migrante, 28 March. Retrieved May 9, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528023235/https://migrantjustice.net/welcome-home).

Anon. 2018. “About the Milk with Dignity Program.” Migrant Justice / Justicia Migrante. Retrieved May 9, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528022338/https://migrantjustice.net/about-the-milk-with-dignity-program).

Anon. 2018. “The Milk With Dignity Program.” Migrant Justice / Justicia Migrante. Retrieved May 9, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528022450/https://migrantjustice.net/MDProgram).

Betancourt, Sarah. 2017. “In Boston, Federal Judge Holds One Vermont Immigrant Activist, Releases Two Others.” Latino USA, 28 March. Retrieved May 9, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528023324/https://www.latinousa.org/2017/03/28/boston-federal-judge-holds-vermont-immigrant-activist/).

Commentary. 2016. “Will Lambek & Enrique Balcazar: A Path Forward for Migrant Justice.” VTDigger, December 20. Retrieved May 9, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528022547/https://vtdigger.org/2016/12/20/will-lambek-enrique-balcazar-path-forward-migrant-justice/).

Jacir, Amanda. 2017. “RFC and Stanford Students Team Up for Milk With Dignity: ‘Hey Ben & Jerry’s Can I Get Some Milk with Dignity in My Cherry Garcia?’ | Real Food Challenge.” Real Food Challenge, 23 February. Retrieved May 9, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170804040954/https://www.realfoodchallenge.org/blog/rfc-and-stanford-students-team-milk-dignity-%E2%80%98hey-ben-jerry%E2%80%99s-can-i-get-some-milk-dignity-my).

Lambek, Will. 2018. “Testimonials.” Migrant Justice / Justicia Migrante. Retrieved May 9, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528022423/https://migrantjustice.net/testimonials).

Masterson, Kathleen. 2017. “Advocates For Vermont Dairy Workers Plan Saturday March On Ben & Jerry's.” VPR, June 16. Retrieved May 27, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528025935/https://www.vpr.org/post/advocates-vermont-dairy-workers-plan-saturday-march-ben-jerrys).

Merevick, Tony. 2017. “Ben & Jerry’s Just Unleashed Waffle Cone Ice Cream Tacos for 4/20.” Thrillist, 20 April. Retrieved May 9, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528025707/https://www.thrillist.com/news/nation/ben-jerrys-launches-chill-aco-ice-cream-taco-for-420).

Migrant Justice. 2017. “HAPPENING NOW: dairy workers confront @benandjerrys board, ‘follow through on commitment to #MilkWithDignity!’” @MigrantJustice, 11 April. (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528025530/https:/twitter.com/MigrantJustice/status/851787594568519680)

Migrant Justice. 2017. “Successful picket @benandjerrys board mtg demanding #MilkwithDignity. Board Prez & VP came out after mtg w new commitment to sign contract!” @MigrantJustice, 12 April. (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528025530/https:/twitter.com/MigrantJustice/status/851787594568519680)

Migrant Justice. 2017. “2017 March for Milk with Dignity.” YouTube, June 22. (https://youtu.be/47hpkTvPslc).

Migrant Justice. 2017. “2 Years Is 2 Long #HumanRights Can’t Wait @benandjerrys #DudeWheresMyMilkwithDignity 2015 Video Still True Today: Https://Youtu.Be/L6bbmV8G9e4.” @MigrantJustice, 27 April. Retrieved May 9, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528030632/https://twitter.com/MigrantJustice/status/857340354411896833).

Niles, Hilary. 2014. “Farm to Plate Tackles Food Equity Issues.” VTDigger, 23 October. Retrieved May 9, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528022941/https://vtdigger.org/2014/10/23/farm-plate-tackles-food-equity-issues/).

O’Neill, Brendan. 2015. “Milk with Dignity Campaign.” Migrant Justice / Justicia Migrante. Retrieved May 9, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528022314/https://migrantjustice.net/milk-with-dignity-campaign).

Singh, Sonia. 2015. “How Migrant Farmworkers Are Cross-Pollinating Strategies—And Winning.” In These Times, 15 July. Retrieved May 9, 2019 (http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/18205/how_migrant_farmworkers_are_cross_pollinating_strategies_and_winning).

Thurston, Jack. 2017. “Activists Turn Up Heat on Ben & Jerry’s.” NECN, 4 April. Retrieved May 9, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190528023421/https://www.necn.com/news/new-england/Activists-Turn-Up-the-Heat-on-Ice-Cream-Maker-Asking-for-Human-Rights-Guarantees-418276943.html).

Y, Rachel. 2017. “Francesca’s #ChillacoChallenge #DudeWheresMyMilkWithDignity.” YouTube, 27 April. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIub_XOhpNg)

Y, Rachel. 2017. “Marny’s #ChillacoChallenge #DudeWheresMyMilkWithDignity.” YouTube, 27 April. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuhugnmBp_k)

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Matt Koucky, 27/05/2019