A coalition accuses The Hershey Co. of refusing to commit to buying cocoa produced without child or forced labor
By STEVE SNYDER
At the height of the Halloween candy-buying season, The Hershey Co. is being accused by a coalition of environmental and human-rights groups of refusing to commit to buying cocoa produced without child labor or forced labor.
Hershey is vigorously defending its cocoa-purchasing practices.
According to Change.org, more than 30,000 consumers have signed an online petition protesting Hershey’s policies.
“A decade ago, Hershey signed an agreement to help fight child slavery and other abuses in the cocoa industry,” Elizabeth O’Connell, a member of the Raise the Bar, Hershey! Coalition, said in a news release. “Yet it has done far less than other chocolate companies to address these abuses.”
The release, issued late last week, says the coalition is planning a call-in day, a Fair Trade Halloween costume contest, and rallies at Hershey stores in New York, Chicago and Niagara Falls.
The coalition includes Green America, described as a green economy organization; Global Exchange, a membership-based international human-rights organization; and International Labor Rights Forum, an advocacy organization dedicated to achieving “just and humane treatment for workers worldwide.”
Hershey asserts that it works to “ensure that our cocoa is responsibly sourced,” according to a statement from Jeff Beckman, director of corporate communications.
“It’s important to us that all members of our global cocoa supply chain are fairly treated,” he wrote. “Our support for cocoa communities goes back more than 50 years.”
Beckman listed investments Hershey has made in West Africa in the past five years “to improve farmer and family life”:
- Hershey is a member of the World Cocoa Foundation, the International Cocoa Initiative and the WCF’s Empowering Cocoa Households with Opportunities and Education Solutions Alliance.
“We take this multilateral approach because no one company or entity – or single approach – can effectively address these issues,” Beckman wrote.
- Hershey partners with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and industry peers to fund and implement a $40 million, five-year West Africa Cocoa Livelihoods Program, organized and implemented by the WCF. About 200,000 cocoa farmers and their families in Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Liberia benefit.
- Hershey helps fund the Sustainable Tree Crops Program and the Farmer Field School Program, in which more than 200,000 farmers participate.
- Hershey is a member of AIM-PROGRESS, a group of 25 global companies that work “to maintain common responsible sourcing standards based on fair labor standards, health and safety, environmental management and business integrity.”
- In March, Hershey launched CocoaLink, a program that uses mobile technology to deliver agricultural and social training to cocoa farmers. Hershey expects more than 100,000 farmers to participate by the end of 2014. CocoaLink was endorsed by the U.S. Department of Labor as part of its $17 million Framework of Action to combat the worst forms of child labor in West Africa. Hershey is a partner and sponsor of Framework of Action.
- In September, Hershey joined with the International Labor Office and seven industry companies to form a public-private partnership to combat child labor in cocoa-growing communities in Ghana and Ivory Coast.
Susan Smith, a spokeswoman for the National Confectioners Association, wrote in a statement that Hershey “without question has been a leader in addressing labor and farmer livelihood issues in West Africa.”
“Hershey has worked for more than 10 years to support programs that improve access to education, enhance productivity and incomes, eliminate hazardous labor and improve the overall health and wellbeing of cocoa communities,” she wrote.
Amanda Kloer, director of organizing for Change.org, wrote in an email Friday that Hershey “has a lot of excellent philanthropic programs both in the U.S. and in cocoa-producing countries which are laudable. But these programs cannot compensate for their lack of purchasing certified cocoa and creating a transparent supply chain free from labor abuses. The most impact they can have in the fight against child labor in cocoa is by improving and reforming their direct sourcing, which they have refused to do.”
Kloer wrote that Hershey buys most of its cocoa from the Ivory Coast, “where child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking are widespread in the cocoa industry.”
“With no supply chain transparency and no certification, Hershey’s puts their cocoa at a huge risk to be tainted by abusive labor practices,” she wrote. “The burden lies on Hershey to demonstrate that they’re not profiting from child abuse in the cocoa sector, like the vast majority of their competitors have done.”
Most major global chocolate companies use some form in certified cocoa in one or more of their bars, Kloer wrote, listing Cadbury (owned by Kraft), Nestle, M&M/Mars, and Green and Blacks.
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