Ben & Jerry’s: Friend or Foe?

The Peace & Justice Center partnered with Ben & Jerry’s at World Fair Trade Day last Saturday at Burlington’s farmer’s market. We were excited to share free ice cream but our partnership is complicated.

Ben & Jerry’s, like the Peace & Justice Center, is committed to supporting and promoting Fair Trade. They educate millions of consumers and purchase fairly-traded vanilla, sugar, chocolate, coffee and bananas. The principles of the Fair Trade movement ensure gender equity, prevent child labor, give back to communities, maintain consistent income, and protect the physical environment in the global south.

Unfortunately, these principles haven’t been applied domestically to achieve fair labor standards in local supply chains. Ben & Jerry’s has an opportunity to change this now by joining the worker-led Milk With Dignity Program and securing the human rights of dairy workers right here in its own backyard.

The majority of Ben & Jerry’s milk comes from Vermont dairy farms, many of which are sustained through the labor of immigrant workers from Mexico. Ben & Jerry’s has known about the problems farmworkers face in its supply chain since the 2009 death of a young 18-year old dairy worker, José Obeth Santiz Cruz in Fairfield, Vermont, which was the spark that started Migrant Justice.

It is beyond the scope of this article to explain the international trade agreements and corporate interests that create the need for both the workers to leave their homes, desperate for work as well as for farm owners who can no longer afford to employ local labor. And while US policy is complicit in creating these systems, we are also busy criminalizing the people we depend on. Deportations were at an all-time high during the Obama administration and things are getting worse. These Vermonters live under the threat of deportation and sometimes in dreadful working and housing conditions, while creating Vermont’s iconic ice cream with a social mission.

Ben & Jerry’s pledged, two years ago, to sign on to Milk With Dignity. They have since then back pedaled. Milk With dignity establishes, among other things, a third-party monitor to oversee farmworker conditions.

For now, the Peace & Justice Center will continue to work with Ben & Jerry’s to support and improve each other’s fair trade commitments. But we will simultaneously push them to take bold action and leadership by committing to this worker-led program to protect workers’ rights not only in the global south, but in our own back yards.

Cocoa Campaign Presentation

Please join us Thursday, June 8 from 11am-12 noon at the Peace and Justice Center (60 Lake Street Suite 1C Burlington, VT 05401) to learn about the the supply chain of the cocoa industry and fair trade.

Like most agricultural goods in the free trade system, the main ingredient to the seemingly wholesome dessert of chocolate actually has a dark secret. This presentation focuses on the issue of child slavery and human trafficking in the cocoa industry.  It is designed to educate, brainstorm solutions and create tangible action steps that fit each participant.

This presentation will be led by Amy Crosswhite.

People are encouraged to arrive at 10:30am to participate in a PJC New Volunteer Orientation.

We are committed to including the Deaf community and others who need language interpretation, if you need ASL or other language interpretation, please let us know ASAP and we will work to make that happen.

We hope to see you then!

World Fair Trade Day from Inside a Banana Suit!

By Quinn DiFalco, PJC Fair Trade Intern

There really is no better way to learn about and discuss fair trade than from the inside of an Equal Exchange banana suit.

Last year at Burlington’s World Fair Trade Day Celebration, I had the opportunity to do just that. I had been volunteering with the Peace & Justice Center for just over a year, all the while learning about what “fair trade” is, where to look for it, what the certification ensures, and why it is so important. I started that fine May day as a regular volunteer, helping set up our free smoothie station sponsored by City Market, and not an hour or so later found myself inside a banana suit, astride the City Market Smoothie bike, racing kids and adults alike to make fair trade banana smoothies for their friends and families. In between bike rides, I was talking to farmer’s market shoppers about the importance of fair trade.

Quinn in the banana suit last year. This year’s World Fair Trade Day celebration is on Saturday, May 13, 10-2:00 at Burlington’s first outdoor farmer’s market of the season in City Hall Park.

I was in a good position to give people an introduction to the world of fair trade because, like many, it was not a concept I was exposed to until recently. I remember very clearly a few years earlier when I had gone to the first Farmer’s Market of the year and was rather confused when someone told me it was World Fair Trade Day. I was excited to witness the event and to talk to vendors and participants, but I didn’t really understand what it it was all about.

For readers who don’t know, a fair trade certification basically ensures that everyone involved in the production of a product is afforded fair wages, decent working conditions, and the methods for production are environmentally friendly. Generally, supply chains for fair trade products are more direct and cut out the go-betweens and brokers who absorb most of the profit. The higher standards for this business model empower the people who usually are afforded the smallest amount of profit for the vast majority of work, ie, the farmers and producers. By giving people decent wages, the economies of their local communities are able to re-invest in their communities and improve their local economies. Additionally, fair trade certification ensures that the people harvesting crops and raw materials or working in the fabrication of an item are not exposed to harmful chemicals that are detrimental to their health. Nor are they asked to wield machinery or hazardous material without appropriate protection and safety precautions.

Fortunately, World Fair Trade Day last year was a beautiful day and the Burlington community readily engaged with me along with the other volunteers and were genuinely curious both about the bike-powered blenders and about fair trade ethics.

This year, I have the privilege of being one of the Fair Trade Interns at PJC and have been working closely with Amy Crosswhite, our Fair Trade Store and Program Manager, to create our World Fair Trade Day Celebration this year. My main goal for this event is to help educate consumers about what fair trade means and how to find these products. Consumer education and demand is the key to derailing market practices that capitalize and thrive on the perpetuation of the cycle of poverty. If we as consumers ask that our producers and suppliers prioritize the livelihood of people and the planet, we can help slow and eventually reverse this destructive cycle. World Fair Trade Day is an opportunity for us to help our vendors increase visibility and availability and to educate the general population.

As part of the celebration, we are excited to host Amor a la Vida, US Sherpa, Lake Champlain Chocolates, the Nomad Coffee Cart (selling exclusively fair trade Brio Coffee Works coffee), the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Scoop Truck, as well as selections from the Peace & Justice Center Fair Trade store. Many vendors who are unable to join us graciously donated fair trade goodies that we will be raffling off throughout the day.  Additionally, Jeh Kulu, the West African dance and drumming troupe will be making an appearance and giving us a special performance! I hope to emulate the spirit of community that the event has carried with it for the past few years.

Hope to see you all there!