Why Migrant Justice will campaign outside Hannaford stores on May 1
On May 1, farmworkers and their advocates will join together to call on Hannaford Supermarkets to join the Milk with Dignity program — for the third year in a row.
Milk with Dignity is a program created by Migrant Justice, a human rights organization founded and led by immigrant farmworkers in Vermont. It enlists the resources and market power of companies to improve labor and housing conditions on dairy farms.
Here’s how it works: companies commit to sourcing milk from farms that are enrolled in the program, and those farms, in turn, receive a premium from the company to facilitate that relationship.
The Milk with Dignity effort took root five years ago, when Ben & Jerry’s signed on and committed to sourcing 100% of its Northeast dairy supply chain from farms that comply with a worker-advised code of conduct.
And while Migrant Justice has been campaigning since 2019 for Hannaford to join Milk with Dignity, up to this point, the company has resisted.
VPR’s Mitch Werlieb spoke with Migrant Justice’s Will Lambek and Marino Chun, a farmworker and Migrant Justice participant. Their conversation below was conducted in English and Spanish, and has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mitch Wertlieb: I want to start by asking about some of the risks that farmworkers face here in the state of Vermont, Marino – low wages [are] a long-standing concern, that's just one thing. What are some of the risks of health and safety that you deal with on a daily basis?
Marino Chun: The risks that milk farmers have is that we don't have insurance and are also exposed to employers´ discrimination. We have some working areas that are not in good condition … there are some of them.
Mitch Wertlieb: And what has the Milk with Dignity program done to address those problems – if it has – and is there any data that shows improvement in these areas?
Marino Chun: Well, the impact of Milk with Dignity has been great, it has had a huge impact because on farms where the program exists, workers have a lot of benefits, like more dignified working conditions, higher wages, and dignified housing. If you are ever sick, you don´t have to go to work, and you have paid vacation times and rest days, and also, a decent work schedule.
Mitch Wertlieb: And Will Lambek, can you tell us briefly how many Vermont farms and farm workers are part of Milk with Dignity right now?
Will Lambek: Sure. So since Ben and Jerry's became the first company to join the Milk with Dignity program, 100% of their dairy purchases from the Northeast region are coming from farms enrolled in the program. So that accounts to about 20% of Vermont's entire dairy industry, in addition to a number of farms in upstate New York. And that means that over 250 farmworkers are having their rights protected through the Milk with Dignity program.
Mitch Wertlieb: Well, we've talked about some positive outcomes then from the Milk with Dignity program, and I want to make clear that we have reached out to Hannaford a number of times in the past about why they have not yet signed on to the program. Why do you think Hannaford may be reluctant to participate and what is so critical about getting Hannaford’s participation?
Editor’s note: Hannaford responded to VPR’s request for comment after this interview was recorded. See the company's full written statement below.
Marino Chun: We ask for Hannaford to take responsibility for the conditions in its dairy supply chain, and by joining the Milk with Dignity [program], farms that supply Hannaford with milk and the stores that distribute them, will be required to follow the program code of conduct.
Below is a map of Migrant Justice’s planned actions at Hannaford Supermarket stores on Sunday, May 1:
Mitch Wertlieb: Do you have any insight into why, to this point, they have not signed onto the program?
Marino Chun: I think that maybe Hannaford doesn't want to get involved, I think they think that everything is going well on their farms, perhaps they think they don't need the program.
Mitch Wertlieb: Well, one more question then, for Marino Chun, and that is: What would you like Vermont consumers to know? What is the most critical thing for them to know about the Milk with Dignity campaign?
Marino Chun: Well, what consumers need to know is that when buying milk, ice cream, cheese, or any dairy product, they should ensure that these products come from dignified work. But, [it] is quite the opposite, there are many abuses at the farms, and that´s why we want Hannaford to be part of Milk with Dignity.
Mitch Wertlieb: And when the workers are doing better on these farms, is it better for the farms as well?
Marino Chun: Yes, because Milk with Dignity, this program created by ourselves, the workers, is designed to support financially farmers and workers alike.
Hannaford shared a written statement with VPR after this interview was recorded. It reads:
“Hannaford is committed to ensuring that the products we sell are produced sustainably and responsibly, with concern for the environment, the public health, and worker and human rights. We do this in three ways:
- All our suppliers sign a code of conduct – a legal document that explicitly outlines our expectations: Labor laws are to be followed stringently, and workers to be treated fairly and humanely. We are conducting due diligence and working with milk suppliers to further validate that our expectations are being met, not only by these direct suppliers but also by their suppliers as well.
- We engage in partnerships and collaborations that help us advance our human rights beliefs and goals across our supply chains. Specific to dairy products, we are conducting due diligence and working with our private-brand milk suppliers to further validate that our expectations are being met in all instances, not only by these direct suppliers but by their suppliers as well. Hannaford has not uncovered any specific and credible information that ties migrant worker abuses to any identified farm within Hannaford’s supply chain.
- We also are engaging with relevant groups across the industry, exploring third-party audit organizations and multi-stakeholder forums. We believe our biggest, longest-lasting impact comes via constructive dialogue and independent, third-party assurance. Hannaford has seen this model succeed and led this kind of work across a range of industries and supply-chain sectors in the past.”
María Aguirre, who produces Noticias en español for NHPR, provided translation for this story.
You can subscribe to ¿Qué Hay De Nuevo, New Hampshire? to receive stories in Spanish about New Hampshire and the New England region in WhatsApp.