CULTIVATING COMIDA: A New Day for Dairy?
Keywords:Column, Dairy Industry, Farmworkers, Labor, Worker-driven Social Responsibility
In the previous Cultivating Comida column, the economic challenges confronting Vermont’s dairy industry were discussed alongside the new possibility of justice for workers in the industry. Following years of farmworker organizing led by the grassroots group Migrant Justice, more than a year has now passed since Vermont’s iconic ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s entered into a legally binding agreement committing the company to the groundbreaking Milk with Dignity (MD) program. The dairy farms in Ben & Jerry’s supply chain are now beginning their second year in the MD program. During this same period, Vermont has seen its share of highs and lows in its dairy industry, a sector that seems to have grown only more unpredictable and unsustainable over time (Mares, 2018). The MD program extends the model of worker-driven social responsibility (WSR) pioneered by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to Vermont’s dairy farms. According to Migrant Justice, the goal of the MD program is to “bring together farmworkers, farmers, buyers and consumers to secure dignified working conditions in dairy supply chains” (Migrant Justice, n.d., “How it works,” para. 1). The program centers upon a code of conduct developed by farmworkers and ensures a price premium to farm owners, which workers felt was essential in the volatile and challenging context of the dairy industry, in order to help offset some of the potential costs of compliance. Unlike past farmworker campaigns that have sought change through a union model, both the CIW and Migrant Justice have demanded change by shifting corporate purchasing practices and putting legally binding supply chain agreements into place. These policies require corporations to source through worker-driven programs that ensure improvements in workers’ rights and are continually monitored and evaluated. This model flies in the face of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) models that are predominant in large-scale food production; these models rarely (if ever) stem from worker-defined needs and priorities, but instead from corporate concern for branding and marketability. . . .
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