Ben & Jerry’s CEO Touts ‘Dignity’ for Low-Wage Illegal Immigrants

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The consumers of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream want their dish garnished with a dollop of progressive sympathy for illegal immigrants, according to company CEO Matthew McCarthy.

But Ben & Jerry’s conspicuous philanthropy helps the company’s bottom line by keeping illegal workers in harsh and dirty dairy jobs. The progressive generosity also helps delay the use of labor-saving automation, and it sets wages for dairy workers at levels roughly 25 percent below wages for Americans who work in Vermont’s food, fishing, forestry, and farm jobs.

Many dairy workers in Vermont “are immigrants,” McCarthy told Ali Noorani, who heads the National Immigration Forum. More precisely, they are illegal migrants, as he acknowledged:

Some people are moved their family at great risk to go to where the work is and doing the work on dairy farms is extremely hard work … So it’s actually a very natural thing for us to be, I think, thinking about and taking mind and action and responsibility for all aspects — including the people working on our farms, many of whom are migrants.

“I really like the idea that we’re an aspiring social justice company,” McCarthy said for the September 4 interview:

A lot of what we do is help direct the energy of our fans … Our fans expect this, they don’t just like it, They don’t just encourage it, they just don’t kind of give us the thumbs up, they expect us to take action. And so when we do flash the light on something that’s an issue and raise it, our fans respond …

I think some of the common threads between all the efforts that we’ve done, including what we’re doing this year, which is very much centered on immigration and immigrants’ rights in lots of parts of the world, relate to education and awareness. So what we want to do is to actually help to give our fans an on-ramp and an entry point.

Illegals deserve dignity, said McCarthy, whose Ben & Jerry’s business is kept semi-independent from its corporate parent, Unilever. The huge Anglo-Dutch corporation bought the ice-cream company for $326 million from Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in 2000. McCarthy continued:

And certainly, ensuring that we, and when I say we, I mean the entire we — are treating each other and creating circumstances that foster more dignity, going forward, knowing that so many people who are marginalized particularly are suffering indignant situations, some mindfully because of systems and or other people.

I really am inspired by the idea [of dignity for illegal migrants]. I’m glad you brought it up this idea that it’s not just about numbers. It’s about humans and humanity, and dignity certainly is a contributor. It is a necessary ingredient, an essential ingredient , towards, I think, living well.

McCarthy’s talk about dignity did not mention the wage-lowering impact of illegals on Americans’ dignity, including the Americans in Vermont who could be hired at higher wages to either milk the cows or to build, install, and operate robots that can milk cows.

Amid the promise of “dignity” for illegals, there is little public evidence that Ben & Jerry’s spends money to provide more dignity to illegal immigrants.

A March 2018 report by the company said the company’s “Caring Dairy” project offers extra money to dairy suppliers who meet the company’s goals, which include tracking “carbon footprint” and “reducing the use of fertilizers.” But the company offers little money, according to the company’s website:

Between 2011 and 2017, the total premium payout to Caring Dairy farmers was $7.5 million, including $3.3 million in 2017 alone!

The company sold $477 million in ice cream in 2017, according to Statista.com.

Ben & Jerry’s has also created a “Milk With Dignity” program which offers higher wages and better working conditions to several hundred illegal dairy workers at roughly 90 farms. The New York Times reported in 2017:

Under the program, called Milk With Dignity, workers at dairy farms that supply Ben & Jerry’s will have the right to one day off a week and will earn at least the state minimum wage, currently $10 an hour. Workers will also be guaranteed at least eight consecutive hours of rest between shifts and housing accommodations that include a bed and access to electricity and clean running water.

The program will be adopted in stages, with some standards, like prohibitions on sexual assault, forced labor and violence toward workers, taking effect immediately. Others, like raising pay to the minimum wage, will come more gradually. Farms must first go through an orientation, and workers must complete education sessions before Ben & Jerry’s begins making the larger payments that will finance some of the benefits.

But pay and working conditions for illegals at Ben & Jerry’s dairies are far below the standard for Americans.

The “Milk With Dignity” pay is tied to Vermont’s minimum wage, which is now $10.87. That pay is far below blue-collar wages in the state. The Burea of Labor Standards reports that half of the state’s farming, fishing and forest workers earned more than $15.77 an hour in May 2018. Half of the state’s food-preparation workers earned more than $13.35.

Similarly, few Americans would accept “one day off a week … at least eight consecutive hours of rest between shifts and housing accommodations that include a bed and access to electricity and clean running water,” or the threat of “sexual assault, forced labor and violence toward workers.”

Breitbart News asked Ben & Jerry’s about wages for migrant workers and company investment in dairy-milking robots. But the press aides dodged the question, saying in an email:

Ben & Jerry’s has provided funds to help establish the Milk with Dignity program and pays premiums for participating farmers to help cover their cost of compliance because we are committed to ensuring dignified working conditions on dairy farms and protecting workers’ human rights. Many farmers have incorporated automation into their operations while also continuing to need paid labor. Ben & Jerry’s also supports farmers through our Caring Dairy program aimed at improving practices to achieve better outcomes for farmers and the environment, which helps participating farmers to invest in their farms as they see fit.

Emails sent to the organizers of the “Milk With Dignity” program, and to the Migrant Justice group, were not answered.

In other states, President Donald Trump’s growing economy is pressuring farmers to raise wages for illegal-migrant dairy workers. In June 2018, Idaho dairy farmer Pete Wiersma told Politico:

We have had to increase wages. I know other dairymen have too …You almost end up almost robbing your neighbor to get your cows milked and that doesn’t make for that great of neighborly relations. It not really overt but it is what kind of happens, and the employees know it and those who are looking for a little bit better paycheck or little bit different situation will go — while they are working for you – they’ll go up the street and check around and see what the availability is, and so we’re almost scavaging workers from each other. It is not real bad yet, but if our labor pool dries up, it could get a lot worse.

The rising wages have proved so shocking to the dairy industry that farm companies are even buying labor-saving machinery, such as robotic-cow milkers built by a Dutch firm, Lely, in Pella, Iowa. Wiersma said:

Automation is starting to really play in because of this issue. I know there is a lot of interest in milking robots … it is a milking station that the cow goes to itself and the milking unit is attached to the cows and she is milked that way… It is quite a radical way from how things have been done, but yes, the potential lack of workforce has really upped the interest in robotic milking and technology in general.

Large dairies are increasingly using cow-milking robots to minimize their need for migrant labor.

The dairy robots provide more dignity for dairy workers, too, because the robots take over the round-the-clock task of milking each cow two or three times a day, 365 days each year.

Ben & Jerry’s also works with an advocacy group for illegals, titled Migrant Justice. The group’s website now features an article lamenting the deportation of two illegal migrants:

On June 23rd, three farmworkers were profiled and arrested outside a Vermont Walmart. Nearly two months later, after an arduous legal battle, Ismael Mendez is free and back in Vermont with his family and community. Sadly, Ubertoni and Mario were pressured to sign “voluntary departure” petitions and have been deported to Mexico. Ismael’s liberation shows the beautiful promise of community solidarity and protest, while Ubertoni and Mario’s deportation shows the cruel reality that all too many immigrants face.

The migrants’ website also celebrates Vermont Gov. Phil Scott’s signature on legislation which helps local governments minimize cooperation with the immigration-enforcement agencies who are required to deport illegal workers in the state’s dairy industry. Gov. Scott, a Republican, described federal enforcement of the immigration laws as “federal overreach.”

Noorani’s NIF lobbies Washington to preserve the federal supply of cheap imported workers — typically, legal immigrants and refugees — to various business groups. NIF gets support from a range of major firms, including Ben & Jerry’s, yogurt-maker Chobani, the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, strawberry-grower Driscoll’s, plus Lyft and Uber, Walmart and many hotel chains.

In his interview with McCarthy, McCarthy repeatedly championed corporate political activism:

I do know a lot about what it is to be a senior executive in a business, and I certainly want to encourage, if not directly collaborate, and influence other leaders of business, including those folks that are soon to be leaders of business.

We’ve never seen a time where there is this much churn in the marketplace, particularly in the turnover of leadership. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The world is moving very fast, and I think business is increasingly agile —  that doesn’t mean increasingly frantic or freaked out — increasingly agile in how they bring the right leadership … [to] their business and their purpose. And for people to have the courage to step forward and commit their business to doing something that is more than just selling the stuff that they’re making every day.

Meanwhile the Census Bureau reported September 10 that President Donald Trump’s “Hire American” economy has boosted salaries for Americans.

The Census Bureau said men who work full time and year-round got an average earnings boost of 3.4 percent in 2018, pushing their median salaries up to $55,291. Women gained 3.3 percent in wages, to bring their median salaries to $45,097 for full time, year-round work.

 

 

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