The Hershey Company has been accused of using child labor before. It’s rather ironic for a candy company but after they issued their first ever CSR report last year, it looked like the company was trying to turn over a new leaf.
However, a new report shows that Hershey is falling behind in upholding its commitment to protect the labor rights of children. The nation’s largest chocolate companies signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol ten years ago to ensure that child labour is ended by 2005.
Over the past ten years, the chocolate industry has spent more than $75 million on activities related to the reduction of the worst forms of child labor in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. This included setting up $18 million for the International Cocoa Initiative, the foundation set up under the Protocol.
Recently, Green America, Global Exchange, and the International Labor Rights Forum issued a report that documents the progress taken by most large food companies. They found one glaring exception and they describe Hershey as “the lone holdout” among companies that signed the Protocol ten years ago.
Companies like Nestle and Mars have made large commitments to increase their purchasing certified cocoa. Ben & Jerry’s have also started to source fairly traded cocoa. Other companies like Bon Appétit Management Company have also pledged to use fair-trade cocoa products.
According to the report Time to Raise the Bar: The Real Corporate Social Responsibility Report for the Hershey Company the company has failed to publicly commit to sourcing independently certified cocoa to comply with international labour rights standards. A nation-wide Raise the Bar Hershey’s! campaign targeting Hershey’s has resulted in 50,000 people urging the company to adopt Fair Trade practices.
The Raise the Bar report coincides with the Hershey Company’s release of its second annual CSR report. Last year, their CSR report stated that they have a goal of “encouraging a cocoa supply chain that provides adequate incomes to small cocoa farmers, advances efforts to promote responsible labor in cocoa-farming communities, promotes gender equity, and protects and preserves the environment.” They also acknowledged that much needs to be done for children in need but it is rather obvious now that what they report and what they do are two different things.
Child labor is an very serious issue in West Africa. Hundereds and thousands of children work under hazardous conditions on cocoa farms which supply the world’s majority of the cocoa. Hershey’s sources much of its cocoa from this region but has no system in place to ensure that child labour is not used. It is rather safe to assume that if cocoa supply chains extend to West Africa, child labor is almost always in the picture and it is up to manufacturers to ensure that they do not encourage this practice. The campaign against Hershey’s also shows that consumers care about where their products come from and how they are made.
Hershey is currently under pressure to commit to sourcing 100% fair-trade certified cocoa beans by 2012 for at least one of its top five selling chocolate bars. According to Elizabeth O’Connell, Fair Trade Campaign Director at Green America, “Every day that Hershey delays in instituting Fair Trade certification to prevent forced labor in its products is a day that tarnishes Hershey’s image as ‘America’s Chocolate Company.’”
Image Credit: Raise the Bar Hershey’s Campaign. Students at a rally in Times Square, New York