Dozens of dairy farm workers and activists descended on the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory in Waterbury, Vermont, to protest the company’s failure to negotiate a program known as “Milk with Dignity.” Milk with Dignity looks to empower dairy farm workers by offering them better wages, better working conditions, and decent housing.
So far, the company that brags about its socially just policies has failed to reach an agreement with local farm workers. So the workers marched from the state capital in nearby Montpelier to the factory in Waterbury to pressure the company to give them what they want.
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 Will Lambek of Migrant Justice. “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.”
If a company wants to adopt social justice policies and still makes money, more power to them. Of course, Ben & Jerry’s sells their products at a stiff premium and this enables them to make a profit while subscribing to the SJW agenda.
But for other businesses, the policies are not quite as successful as the negotiations over the Milk with Dignity program suggests. Finding a solution that would be a “win-win across the board” may not be possible. Dairy farmers have a notoriously narrow profit margin (even with price supports) and the extra costs associated with paying and housing workers at a higher level than their competition may not be possible.
Ben & Jerry’s may claim superiority over the standard capitalist model while piously proclaiming their solidarity with workers and consumers. But the fact is, theirs is an elitist form of liberalism made possible because they’ve convinced most of us to pay a lot more for ice cream than we normally would. Are their products really that much better than ice cream made by Deans or Bluebird? It’s all in the taste buds; the success the company has had with branding itself as a desirable alternative has as much to do with their bottom line as it does with what ingredients they use in their confections.