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Sanders Touts Ben & Jerry's As Model Of How Companies Can Address Social Inequities

courtesy of Lindsey Bumps
Sen. Sanders addresses a group of more than 70 Ben & Jerry's employees at the St. Albans factory.

Sen. Sanders visited the Ben & Jerry's St. Albans plant Friday to hear about the company's efforts to increase jobs in Vermont and to talk with factory employees.

The senator addressed about 70 employees in a town hall-style meeting, reiterating the many social justice issues that were central to his presidential campaign, including the challenges facing middle class Americans and the increasing chasm between the wealthiest Americans and the average citizen.

Sanders praised Ben & Jerry's for including a social mission in their business plan, saying it isn't enough to simply manufacture a good product:

"They also have a mission which says that workers have got to be respected, there has to be a family attitude, that people are in it together," Sanders said.

"The goal is not just to exploit people and make as much money as you can, the goal is not to destroy environment and make as much money as you can - the goal is to be employer that stands for justice."

Sanders said that large companies are going to have to play significant role in addressing economic, environmental and agricultural challenges our planet faces, and that "this company has been a leader in coming up with sensible policies."

Credit courtesy of Lindsey Bumps
Sen. Sanders gets a tour of the Ben & Jerry's St. Albans factory, which is undergoing a $50 million expansion.

Some of those environmental concerns are playing out right in the ice cream company's backyard. Ben & Jerry's sources milk from all over Vermont, including large dairies in Franklin County, as well as dairies in Utah and globally. Environmental groups have expressed concern that in the St. Albans bay, more than 60 percent of the phosphorous pollution is coming from nearby dairy farms.

Ben & Jerry's CEO Jostein Solheim says that the company is working with farmers to teach best practices for addressing nutrient runoff.

"We have program called Caring Dairy, which addresses soil health, nutrient management, etc., where we incentivize farmers and help them," Solheim said.

"Because this is a really challenging financial burden on the farmers at the moment- and there's a lot of new regulations. We're incentivizing through [monetary] premiums, to have concrete programs to reduce the environmental impact of farming." 

"We've been very fortunate to be a successful business over these last five, seven years, and growing a lot. So we've expanded both in Waterbury and in St. Albans," Solheim said. "And this year, we're expanding St. Albans, and this is a really big one, this is more than $50 million, creating around 60 new jobs."

Those approximately 60 new workers have been hired in advance of the expansion, and they are currently working the weekend shift in the St. Albans factory. The new wing is scheduled to open January 2018.

Solheim said Sanders is visiting to "assess progress and so we can share our experience of investing and growing in Vermont."

Sanders opened the floor to Ben & Jerry's employees, who asked him a wide range of questions on topics from opioid addiction to state funding for college education to climate change.

After the discussion, the senator donned steel-toed boots, a hair net, protective goggles and lab coat for a quick tour of the factory floor.

Credit courtesy of Lindsey Bumps
Ice cream company founders Ben Cohen (middle) and Jerry Greenfield sit with Sen. Sanders before the senator takes questions from Ben & Jerry's employees.


Kathleen Masterson as VPR's New England News Collaborative reporter. She covered energy, environment, infrastructure and labor issues for VPR and the collaborative. Kathleen came to Vermont having worked as a producer for NPR’s science desk and as a beat reporter covering agriculture and the environment.
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