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Ben & Jerry’s Inks Deal to Improve Working Conditions for Migrant Dairy Workers

Polishing off that pint of Ben & Jerry’s just became a little more altruistic.

The Vermont-based ice cream maker signed an agreement this week to improve the pay and working conditions of the dairy farmers that provide milk to make the company’s cold dairy treats.

The Milk with Dignity (MD) Program is a worker-driven initiative that brings together farmworkers, farmers, and dairy buyers to “ensure just and dignified working conditions” in Ben & Jerry’s dairy supply chain. The agreement not only seeks to establish working standards, but also creates an enforcement strategy, which aims to encourage workers to speak up when violations occur.

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The program is modeled after the Fair Food Program, which was implemented to ensure living wages and better working conditions for fruit and vegetable pickers who work on participating farms. While that program first started to address those working in the tomato industry in Florida, it has since expanded to other states and crops.

Those in the Vermont dairy industry tend to work under poor conditions. The New York Times reports that they have few days off, with demanding schedules that do not allow for enough sleep. A large majority of workers are undocumented migrants who live on the farms that employ them and work for low wages.

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Under the agreement, workers will be entitled to one day off a week; eight hours of consecutive rest between shifts; better housing; and the state minimum wage. Workers will be encouraged to report violations to a hotline to ensure enforcement of the new policies. Ben & Jerry’s has committed to sourcing 100% of its dairy ingredients through this program “over a period of years.”

While the ice cream maker has been at the cutting edge of sustainability, self-imposing a carbon tax in 2015, Ben & Jerry’s wants to set the tone for the dairy industry as well. Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim said that the company “love[s] to be part of innovation,” and that it believes “in worker-led movements, and in bringing in dairy and doing it in Vermont.”