Can supermarkets support dairy farm workers?

Published: Oct. 4, 2019 at 4:31 PM EDT
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Hannaford Supermarkets is responding to demands this week from the local group Migrant Justice to direct some of its profits to low-paid farm workers who help supply the milk they sell.

Ben & Jerry's ice cream satisfies many a sweet tooth, but the Vermont-born company with global reach also has a social mission. That made the ice cream maker the perfect first choice to sign on to Migrant Justice's Milk with Dignity Campaign in 2017. Ben & Jerry's now provides direct financial support to over 250 migrant farmworkers on nearly 70 farms across Vermont and New York.

"Ben & Jerry's looks at its entire value chain and is trying to determine how it can have better outcomes for agricultural producers. The Milk with Dignity program has brought a really good labor standard program," said Ben & Jerry's Rob Michalak

Migrant Justice is now pressuring the Hannaford supermarket chain to join the program. The group brought its demands to a Hannaford store in Burlington Thursday. "Hannafords is one of the largest companies in the area and so we want Hannafords to join this program and be a human rights champion," said Rosi Alfaro with Migrant Justice.

The group says it's targeting Hannaford and not other dairy retailers in part because Hannaford's parent company is already part of the Fair Food Program, which supports tomato farmers in a similar way.

While Hannaford did not comment directly on Migrant Justice's demands, the company did issue a statement Friday voicing support for farm workers. "Hannaford is a proud purchaser of Vermont products, including milk and dairy items. We expect all those who supply goods to our company to abide by the law and ensure that workers are treated humanely and fairly," said the statement.

Several dairy economists say they question if Hannaford or other supermarkets are in a place to offer support to dairy farm workers. They say support is needed form multiple levels of the dairy industry.

"I think that the future of the Milk with Dignity program is to continue to learn, share what they are learning and build a collaborative process between workers, farmers and milk buyers," said Dan Baker, a community development professor at the University of Vermont.

Ben & Jerry's agrees that it will take Migrant Justice reaching all levels of the dairy industry to create systematic change. "You know, they need to continue to go out, reach out and talk to different companies, whether they're retailers, or processors, or manufacturers," Michalak said.

Migrant Justice says it will continue to pressure Hannaford to join their program, but they have not made similar demands to any other supermarket chain or dairy producer in the region.