Innovator Profile: Milk With Dignity

by Jeshua John, on November 27, 2023 at 7:53 AM

Milk with Dignity ensures compliance by dairy farms with a worker-developed code of conduct that sets standards for wages, scheduling, health and safety, housing, as well as protections around the workplace. 

The Workers Lab first partnered with Milk with Dignity in 2019 when the organization applied for and won that year’s Innovation Fund. Milk with Dignity is a project of Migrant Justice, a human rights organization founded and led by immigrant farmworkers in Vermont. The program is modeled after the Fair Food Program started by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group of tomato pickers from south-central Florida, whom the Workers Lab has also supported. Milk with Dignity is focused on worker-driven social responsibility, which includes a worker-developed code of conduct setting standards for wages, scheduling, health and safety, housing, as well as protections around the workplace. 

Migrant Justice created a third-party auditor to objectively monitor farms’ compliance with the standards in the code. Since the program first launched, it has grown to include dozens of farms that account for more than 100% of the volume equivalent of Ben & Jerry’s Northeast dairy purchases. The large ice cream maker has been a supporter since it joined the program in 2018. The group has a comprehensive update on the work it has accomplished in the last five years in this report. You can also learn more about their work and support the organization by visiting their website. The following includes the group’s responses to a recent interview about their work since the Workers Lab first partnered with them. 

How has your organization changed since you were funded by TWL? 

Funding from The Workers Lab helped us shore up our initial gains and begin planning for expansion. When we applied for funding, we had just won our first Milk with Dignity contract and were in the process of rolling out the program on dozens of dairy farms around the region. Since then, we have solidified the implementation of Milk with Dignity, ensuring that the program is working as intended: protecting the rights and improving labor conditions for hundreds of dairy workers, while supporting dairy farms and companies to achieve transparent, worker-defined standards.

What's ahead for your organization? What are you focused on next? 

We are currently engaged in a protracted campaign with grocery chain Hannaford Supermarkets to bring them into the Milk with Dignity Program, ensuring that their store-brand milk comes from farms free from human rights abuses. Milk with Dignity requires an inversion of deeply ingrained power imbalances in corporate supply chains, positioning immigrant dairy workers as equals and business partners with multinational corporations. The program is a deviation from the corporate status quo, and it takes an enormous amount of pressure for companies to come around; real change takes time, but the innovation and perseverance of immigrant farmworkers has shown that it's possible.

What do you want potential funders and donors to know about your organization?

Migrant Justice has developed a farmworker-driven human rights program that is transforming the dairy industry and achieving unprecedented gains for dairy workers. Immigrant farmworkers – some of the most excluded, exploited workers in the United States – have discovered a model capable of winning binding agreements with multinational corporations, drastically improving conditions, and enforcing rights. Through the Milk with Dignity Program, millions of dollars have been redirected from corporate profits into the pockets of farmworkers and towards ensuring their health and wellbeing. Funders that invest in Migrant Justice and other organizations applying this model will see the impact of their support.

What advice do you have for other innovators who are supporting workers? 

No victory is worthwhile if the gains can't be enforced. Organizations advancing workers' rights must be attuned to how their innovations will apply on the ground and to what the ultimate impact will be. The hard work of enforcement requires careful foresight and built-in structures to ensure that rights are guaranteed not just on paper but in the lived experience of workers. It also requires resources and capacity.

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