In December of 2009, a young farmworker named José Obeth Santiz Cruz was killed on the job in Fairfield, Vermont after his clothes got caught in a mechanized gutter scraper. Cruz’s tragic death led to the creation of Migrant Justice, an organization demanding human rights for migrant farmworkers in the state.
Five years later, Migrant Justice approached Ben & Jerry’s, the popular Vermont-based ice cream company, and invited them to join their ‘Milk with Dignity’ program, a movement of farmworkers and activists that calls on companies to put an end to rampant industry abuses. Despite Ben & Jerry’s progressive reputation and stated commitment to social causes, the company has so far declined to formally sign on to a grassroots initiative led by some of the most exploited workers in the state.
Now, Vermont farmworkers are escalating their campaign, building from years of organizing in an industry fraught with abuses. The Milk with Dignity campaign was birthed after years of movement dialogue and research, including the release of a survey showing that 40 percent of Vermont farmworkers earn less than minimum wage.
Vermont farmworkers worked directly with the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to construct a campaign capable of taking on large companies, including businesses that have cultivated a progressive image. The CIW spearheaded an internationally recognized anti-slavery campaign, which has liberated more than 1,200 farmworkers from bondage in the United States.
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