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Tuesday, Mar 21, 2023

How Middlebury College can help Vermont workers

One of the first things that a new student notices upon joining the Middlebury community is the common fidelity to social justice. Students and staff alike are characterized by their attentiveness to imbalances and iniquities, and by their audacious plans to fix them. Such altruistic concerns for the fundamental improvement of society are seldom constrained by borders – Middlebury students tend to think big, paying attention to the issues facing communities far outside of our own and deploying the greatest degree of empathy to innovate effective solutions. Yet, as individuals so engaged with the pursuit of a better future, it is easy to get wrapped up in the bigger issues and miss the problems – and solutions – that are right in front of us. 

Say it’s a Thursday night. Hungry, you and your roommates bundle into someone’s Subaru and drive to Hannaford’s. You buy cookie dough, some chocolate milk, and a bag of shredded cheese to devour in your room at 3 a.m. after a disappointing night at Atwater. It may seem outlandish to say that by doing this, you’ve unknowingly endorsed the continuing violation of undocumented worker’s rights. Unfortunately, this isn’t far from the truth. 

Dairy products account for almost 65% of Vermont’s agricultural sales, and the most recent statistics show that Addison County alone spent $505,426,000 on dairy products in 2017. Yet, despite the significance of dairy farming not only to Vermont’s economy, but also to the state’s identity, many of those employed to undertake this vital labor are not being treated with the respect or dignity they deserve. Facing inadequate wages, unscrupulous hours, a lack of access to bathrooms and sufficient accommodation, as well as a shortage of first aid kits despite many instances of injury and illness — many migrant farm workers have seen their undocumented status exploited. Hannaford’s - the supermarket chain with over 200 stores in the northeastern United States, including one in Middlebury — continues to supply products from these dairy farms. By turning a blind eye to the hardship and inhumanity faced by undocumented dairy farmers in Vermont, Hannaford’s continues to implicate its customers in the exploitation of the hard-working people on whom we rely for our everyday produce. Needless to say, this is unacceptable. 

In 2014, Burlington-based group Migrant Justice launched a campaign to secure Vermont’s undocumented dairy farmers the humanity to which they are entitled as contributors to our economy, as members of our communities, and — above all — as human beings. Milk With Dignity (MWD) has been immensely successful: world-famous ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s committed to adhere to the movement’s Code of Conduct by the end of 2017, bestowing workers at over 70 farms with the rights and protections that they had previously been denied. In 2019, Migrant Justice launched the campaign to urge Hannaford’s parent company, Ahold Delhaize, to join the MWD program, striving to continue the extension of these positive impacts to migrant farm workers throughout the northeast. The company has not yet agreed to join the program.

In awe of the work Migrant Justice have done, we want to help further the Milk With Dignity movement. Our campaign — HannaforDignity — believes the best way of doing this is by mobilizing the support of the Middlebury College community. Many students come from outside of Vermont, or even from outside of the United States, and for all Middlebury has become a home. We owe a debt of gratitude to this state – and to those who work tirelessly to uphold its unique identity. This issue sits right on our doorstep, and we have the ability to help change it. We believe that by mobilizing the vivacious passion for social justice ascribable to the Middlebury College community, culminating in an official endorsement from the college, we can significantly increase public awareness and support for the MWD movement. Ultimately, we hope that this surge in support will help secure Hannaford’s commitment to adhere to the Code of Conduct in order to both protect its reputation and serve its community. 

We owe it to Vermont’s undocumented dairy farmers to defend their rights with the same zeal with which many of them sought to find a better life in the United States. Rights for our workers, humanity for our farmers - HannaforDignity. 

Please join the movement at go/hannafordignity. It is also Solidarity Week, to find out more go to go/solidarity

Dan Golstein '20, Emma McKee '23, Chloe McNamara '23 and Ife Onuorah '23 are members of Middlebury HannaforDignity.