A group of protestors supported Migrant Justice’s Milk with Dignity campaign march past the St. Albans Hannaford in 2019.

In a letter sent to the corporation last week, 71 investors and shareholders urged the Hannafords corporation to join the Milk with Dignity program that has been partnering with Ben and Jerry’s since 2017.

“When a farm enters the program, I’ve seen the changes,” said Uriel Calvo, a farm dairy worker and migrant justice leader. “They’re really stark. They have their own bedrooms, their own privacy, and get a day off to talk with family...There are many workers who come here looking for a better life for their families. They’re met with discrimination and abusive conditions. They aren't respected, their needs and rights aren't taken into account.”

What is Milk with Dignity?

The Milk with Dignity program was officially launched in Vermont and New York in 2018 by Migrant Justice, a group that organizes and implements efforts for economic justice and human rights, according to their website.

The Milk with Dignity program was first signed by Migrant Justice and the CEO of Ben and Jerry’s in 2017, and legally binds them to implement a worker-driven human rights program as part of the foundation of their company.

Ben and Jerry’s now pays a premium in exchange for economic support and relief for farm owners, while ensuring dignity and respect for the workers on their farms, according to the Migrant Justice website.

Now, it’s Hannaford’s turn: Hannaford’s brand milk is from farms all across the region, but without the assurance of the Milk with Dignity program, there is no guarantee that codes of ethics and respect for human rights are being upheld.

In response for calls for accountability by Migrant Justice, Hannafords Spokesperson Erick Dodge stated “We expect all our suppliers to follow the law and treat workers fairly. We require our suppliers to comply with standards of engagement — similar to a code of conduct — including provisions for: how they treat and compensate workers; maximum allowable working hours and days; premium pay for overtime; and workplace health and safety," according to a release.

Will Lambek, spokesperson for Migrant Justice said there is clear evidence of poor human living and working conditions, meager pay and various instances of a clear lack of acknowledgment of the rights of migrant farmworkers, and that Milk with Dignity was one way to hold farmers accountable.

“Hannafords would have to connect to sourcing their dairy from farms that are enrolled in Milk with Dignity,” Lembek said. “Farms have to abide by a code of conduct, standards, third party monitoring and working with employers and others together.”

Calvo said while he enjoys his work on a dairy farm in Central-Southern Vermont, he knows many other farmers who are forced to share bedrooms with groups of people, sleep in horrible conditions and forced to pay their own medical bills when a workplace-related injury occurs, among other retaliatory abuses.

Calvo goes to work every day on a dairy farm and is one of a two-person team milking 1,100 heads of dairy cattle on thirty machines with only two shifts of people available.

The hard work, the long hours, displacement from family, cruel treatment and lack of insurance is often enough to drive workers out of the industry, Calvo said, but programs like Milk with Dignity stood to change the culture around farmworkers in the United States.

“We, the undersigned investors representing $121 billion in assets under management, are writing to urge Hannaford (“the Company”) to address material reputational and compliance risks related to the human rights of workers in their dairy supply chain by joining the Milk with Dignity (MD) program,” their letter said. “MD stands apart from any other compliance program, supplier code of conduct, or company run audit by directly engaging workers in the business of protecting their own rights and wellbeing. As investors we are concerned with environmental, social and governance risks including human rights issues which can affect the long-term performance of companies. Additionally, we recognize that the health and welfare of the agricultural workforce is integral to the sustainability of our food system and the agricultural industry, yet agricultural workers face ongoing, egregious human rights abuses.”

The letter was signed by Corey Klemmer, CFA, Esq. Director of Corporate Engagement Domini Impact Investments, and Nadira Narine Senior Program Director Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, and was supported by dozens of household names.

Read the letter by clicking here

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