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Liberal Ben & Jerry's Faces Protests Over Worker Rights

Image: Liberal Ben & Jerry's Faces Protests Over Worker Rights
(Ben & Jerry's)

Monday, 19 Jun 2017 08:53 PM

Ben & Jerry's, the progressive ice cream maker, is facing protests for not being quite progressive enough, with protesters charging the company is not making sure its dairy suppliers are paying immigrant workers a fair wage.

Scores of dairy farm workers and activists marched over the weekend to a Ben & Jerry's factory to push for better pay and living conditions on farms that provide milk for the ice cream maker that takes pride in its social activism.

Protesters said Ben & Jerry's agreed two years ago to participate in the so-called Milk with Dignity program, but the company and worker representatives have yet to reach an agreement.

"We can't wait anymore. We are going to pressure them and see what happens," said Victor Diaz, a Mexican immigrant now working on a farm in Vergennes.

The march that began Saturday morning in Montpelier ended mid-afternoon at the plant in Waterbury, about 14 miles away. Organized Will Lambek said the marchers presented a letter to company CEO Jostein Solheim who said the company was committed to joining the program.

Ben & Jerry's spokesman Sean Greenwood said before Saturday's march from the Statehouse to the Waterbury factory that the company was eager to reach an agreement and negotiations were underway.

"We are a values-led business. We frame ourselves as an aspiring social justice company," said Greenwood. "We try to do good with everything we can with our business. Dairy has definitely been one of those issues we have done a ton of work on for decades."

Ben & Jerry's touts its social activism as much as its quirky ice-cream flavors such as Cherry Garcia, Chunky Monkey and Phish Food. Many of its raw materials, like sugar, cocoa, vanilla, bananas and coffee come from producers across the world that subscribe to the Fairtrade program, which promotes higher prices and better working conditions for farmers.

About 85 percent of the milk Ben & Jerry's uses in its ice cream made in North America comes from about 80 Vermont dairy farms. Its Caring Dairy program promotes sustainable farming by offering farmers cash incentives for keeping up with best management practices.

The Milk with Dignity program was developed in 2014 by farm workers and the Vermont group Migrant Justice to ensure that farms provide them fair wages and working conditions and decent housing.

In 2015, Ben & Jerry's agreed to join the program. Since then, the two sides have been negotiating over the details.

"We've been negotiating in good faith," said Lambek. "It's an unacceptable delay."

Greenwood said Ben & Jerry's didn't get the first details from the workers until a year ago and the two sides have been working since then to reach an agreement.

"It has to work for the farmers, the farm owners, and it has to work for the businesses involved and that's the complex piece," Greenwood said. "How do you make sure that it will be operationalized so it's a win-win across the board and that's what we've been working on for well over a year now."

Two of the protesters, Yesenia Hernandez-Ramos and Esau Peche-Ventura were arrested Saturday and were being held on immigration charges, the Vermont Department of Corrections said.

A U.S. Border Patrol spokesman told Vermont Public Radio they were stopped in a routine check a few miles away from the U.S.-Canada border. The immigrant rights group Migrant Justice said they were arrested as they were returning to the farm where they work and live in Franklin County.

Protesters demonstrated Monday afternoon outside a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in St. Albans and in the morning at a correctional facility in South Burlington where Hernandez-Ramos was being held.

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Ben & Jerry's, the progressive ice cream maker, is facing protests for not being quite progressive enough, with protesters charging the company is not making sure its dairy suppliers are paying immigrant workers a fair wage.Scores of dairy farm workers and activists marched...
APFN, US, Milk With Dignity
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2017-53-19
Monday, 19 Jun 2017 08:53 PM
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