It’s been an especially rough year for the public relations team of candy-making monolith, Hershey. Once known best for its association with fun-loving holidays like Valentine’s and Halloween, the company has come under fire for its history of sourcing cocoa from child slave labor camps in West Africa.
In the meantime, Hershey reported to the AP that it will continue to support community development programs in the area, including village school construction, mobile phone farmer messaging, training in modern farming techniques, literacy and health programs.
According to the International Labor Rights Forum―one of the most vocal activist groups campaigning against Hershey slave labor―the chocolatier sources much of its cocoa from known child slave labor farms in West Africa, which participate in other human rights abuses, including human trafficking.
Currently, that region produces about 70% of the world’s cocoa, reports the AP.
The news agency also states that independent research conducted by Tulane University under contract from the U.S. Department of Labor, estimates about 1.8 million children are believed to work on those West African cocoa farms. Approximately 40% of the children―who range in age from five to 17―don't attend school of any kind. Some are reportedly subjected to beatings and prolonged exposure to pesticides and extreme heat.
According to the ILRF, Hershey slave labor "makes billions" for the company at the expense of these children, only about fifteen percent of whom it estimates are paid any wages at all.
Global activist groups came together last year to create the “Raise The Bar” campaign, an initiative made specifically to put pressure on Hershey to stop participating in human abuse. Frustrated by what it characterized as “ten years of empty promises” by Hershey to change its sourcing, officials from the campaign made a bold move. They announced to the candy maker their plan to air a commercial on the Jumbotron at this year’s Super Bowl, illustrating Hershey slave labor if it didn’t initiate major changes immediately.
The Huffington Post reports that in response to that threat, Hershey offered to source certified cocoa for its line of “Bliss” chocolates―but in reality, the Bliss line only accounts for a fraction of the company’s business.
However, just this week, grocery chain Whole Foods Market announced its plan to stop carrying Hershey’s Scharffen Berger chocolates, until the candy maker could prove their chocolate wasn’t made on the backs of enslaved children.
That seemed to have been the final straw for Hershey, which this week made its latest declaration that it will use certified Fair Trade cocoa for all of its chocolate products―by 2020. Why the eight-year wait? The company hasn’t explained that part yet. But if it actually goes through with its promise, all cocoa used will come from sources verified by an independent third party as meeting specific global standards, including its production by workers who are treated humanely.
Incidentally, Hershey’s human rights abuse allegations also reach into the continental United States. According to The New York Times, last year hundreds of foreign college students who signed up for Hershey’s Summer Work/Travel Program, protested and walked out of its Palmyra, Penn., factory. The U.S. State Department later confirmed that instead of the cultural exchange program they were promised, students were coerced into working night shifts performing heavy manual labor in the Hershey factory for minimum wage. The company also committed “predatory business practices” by deducting more than half of the students' weekly paychecks for rent and other miscellaneous expenses.
For the children of West Africa, 2020 seems like quite a ways off. In the meantime, campaigns like Raise the Bar will continue to report on Hershey’s efforts, and Change.org has an active petition, which is open for more signatures. Most importantly, consumers can keep the pressure up using their wallets to send the message to Hershey that making the switch to Fair Trade now is better for all of us.
Hershey slave labor will end by 2020, will you give them your business this Halloween? Tell us what you think in the Comments.