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.