In recent years, we have watched food companies shift their principles, their ingredient sources, and their marketing strategies to address the concerns of consumers. From animals raised without antibiotics to GMO-free ingredients, restaurant chains and food processors have taken steps in what they believe is a more customer and environmentally friendly direction.
Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company has taken this movement one step further. According to an article in The New York Times, the Vermont-based company signed an agreement earlier this month with a farmworkers’ group that established labor standards for its supplying farms.
The program is called Milk with Dignity. It was shaped after the Fair Food Program, an agreement that began in 2011 to address concerning working conditions in Florida’s tomato industry. Subway, Walmart, Whole Foods, and other companies agreed to pay an extra 1 to 4 cents per pound of tomatoes and buy only from suppliers participating in the program. The growers committed to paying the legal minimum wage and to ensure workers’ safety and rights.
As part of Milk with Dignity, workers at Vermont dairy farms that supply Ben & Jerry’s with milk will have the right to one day off per week and will earn at least the state’s minimum wage of $10 an hour. Workers must also be guaranteed at least eight consecutive hours of rest between shifts and housing that includes a bed and access to electricity and clean water.
In exchange, Ben & Jerry’s is required to purchase its milk from farms that follow the standards and pay an undisclosed premium for the milk it buys based on volume. Compliance will be monitored and audits conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project.
Ben & Jerry’s buys milk from approximately 90 farms in the state of Vermont. Realizing that some of the required changes won’t be easy to implement, the program will be adopted in stages. Farms need to go through an orientation and workers have to complete educational sessions before Ben & Jerry’s will pay the premiums.