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Milk With Dignity

Label Before Labor: Fair Trade USA’s Dairy Label Fails Workers

By Anna Canning - Fair World Project, May 2021

Fair Trade USA released a new “Fair Trade Dairy” label in partnership with Chobani. It’s a program that has been opposed by farmworker and human rights organizations since it was first announced. Now that there is yogurt on the shelf, but still no final standard released, this report looks at the label claims and evaluates “Fair Trade Dairy” based on the available standards.

The critique focuses on three key areas:

  • Inadequate standards development process
  • Standards that are not fit for purpose
  • Lack of enforcement mechanisms

Finally, the report also reviews the rising tide of research that shows that corporate-developed and led certifications are inadequate and points instead to existing models that are better suited to defending workers’ rights and safety. Organized workers are pushing policy changes across the country, improving wages and winning vital workplace protections. And Worker-driven Social Responsibility programs are building power and supporting workers defending their rights and addressing the fundamental power imbalances in the food system.

The report concludes that:
“Corporate consolidation, trade policy, and other macro trends are squeezing farmers and workers in the dairy industry. To address the forces at work requires addressing the imbalance of power head on. If we are to envision a world where those at the top of supply chains are held accountable, we must support programs that are transformative. Instead of reinforcing existing systems of power, we should look to the leadership of those who have been protesting, leading, and advocating for their own communities for hundreds of years.”

Read the text (PDF).

How Milk with Dignity got a historic agreement

Enrique "Kike" Balcazar interviewed by Owen La Farge - Socialist Worker, October 19, 2011

WHAT WERE the most important victories that came with the signing of the Milk with Dignity agreement Ben & Jerry's?

FOR MANY years, the priority of dairy workers here in Vermont has been to improve working and living conditions on the farms. We had to build our way up to winning this agreement. First, we organized to secure things like drivers licenses for immigrants in Vermont and stopping the collaboration of police with immigration authorities.

In 2014, we started to speak with Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream about how they could behave more responsibility and lead the way in improving working conditions. The workers designed a program called "Milk with Dignity."

The program was created and led by dairy workers in Vermont. It has five essential elements, including a code of conduct that sets out standards that establish respect and dignity for workers in the areas of decent wages, hours of work, health and safety, and dignified housing.

AND ALL of this is included in the agreement that Ben & Jerry's signed?

YES. IN addition to the code of conduct, the program establishes a plan to educate workers when they start so they can learn about their rights and how to defend them.

Another important element of Milk with Dignity is that an independent third party will interview the workers and oversee the execution of the program. Farmworkers will also be able to call a 24/7 hotline to make complaints and to improve communication inside the dairy farms.

WHY DID Ben & Jerry's sign the agreement two years after initially saying that they supported the agreement?

WE ORGANIZED well, and we defined what we wanted clearly, and we knew that Milk with Dignity represented a new day for the workers. So we never stopped organizing, and with the support of students, faith groups, sister organizations, consumers and workers, we pushed Ben & Jerry's to sign the deal.

Ben & Jerry's has taken steps towards social responsibility in areas such as the environment and animal rights. So I believe Ben & Jerry's understood it was time to do right by the workers.

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