Hershey Chocolate: Forced Child Labor in Your Cocoa | Awakened Aesthetic

Resse’s. Kisses. Nutrageous. 5th Avenue. Almond Joy. Caramello. Heath. Kit Kat. Mounds. Mr. Goodbar. Rolo. Symphony. Take5. Whatchamacallit. York.

Which is your favorite?

Mine’s a tie between Heath and York. In fact, buying me coffee-flavored ice cream with Heath chunks is the fastest way to get to my heart.

Excuse me: was.

Starting today, I will no longer buy any products made by Hershey.

But before I get to the grit, here’s a base of information for us to start with:

  • Most consumer chocolate comes from cocoa beans that are farmed in West Africa.
  • West Africa is known for forced labor, human trafficking and child labor – sometimes all three at once.
  • Hershey, which has the largest market share in the US at 42.5%, gets the majority of their chocolate from – you guessed it! – West Africa.
  • Out of every major (and a bunch of relatively minor) companies that produce chocolate, Hershey is the only one that refuses to certify their chocolate as organic or fair trade.

In fact, not only does Hershey refuse to certify its sources, it also won’t even list them publicly. When asked by companies like Global Exchange and The International Labor Rights Forum, Hershey refused to provide public information about its cocoa sources in West Africa, period.

But we do know that the majority of Hershey’s cocoa is sourced from West Africa; that the company has no purchasing policies that would prevent labor exploitation of those in West Africa; that it refuses to shift to third-party fair trade certifications (which almost every other major chocolate manufacturer has); and lastly, even when Hershey’s investors asked the company to “institute supply-chain transparency programs for its cocoa,” the company refused.

The reason?  At the time, three other major chocolate companies were being sued for forced child labor.  When asked if Hershey used the same suppliers as those referenced in the lawsuit, Bama Athreya, deputy director of the International Labor Rights Fund, said it would be “extremely unusual” if they didn’t.

Think of it this way: every time you use Hershey’s syrup to make your chocolate milk, or plan a camp-out with Hershey’s chocolate smores, you’re doing so because of children who were sold into slavery, taken to a cocoa farm in Cote d’Ivoire or Ghana, and forced to work on cocoa farms without payment, basic education or protection from harmful pesticides. Oh, and they’re beaten.


The sick irony in all of this is that Hershey does try to support underprivileged kids, at least in the US: the founder and his wife established a school for disadvantaged kids in Pennsylvania (which is still running) and the company invests in many other US-based community projects and charities.  Hersey has also invested in various programs in West Africa – though it gives no public information on whether those programs have actually made an impact on the labor issues the company’s business has caused.

Would these programs even be necessary if Hershey, the biggest seller of chocolate products in the US, didn’t source its cocoa from farms that use forced and child labor?

On September 13, 2010, the Hershey Company released its first ever Corporate Social Responsibility Report, many say in response to green organizations’ growing concerns.  Upon inspection, however, the report said very little about Hershey’s involvement with the labor practices of its chocolate sources, and certainly didn’t offer any real solutions to combat forced or child labor in its supply chain.

In response to Hershey’s Corporate Social Responsibility Report, Green America, a not-for-profit organization focused on both social justice and environmental responsibility, issued their own.  It became the basis of a new campaign: Raise the Bar, Hershey*.

“This report is an alternative CSR report for the Hershey Company; it provides an overview of developments in corporate responsibility efforts in the cocoa industry, examines Hershey’s corporate social responsibility policies and programs, and concludes that Hershey should increase transparency in its cocoa supply chain and shift to sourcing Fair Trade Certified™ cocoa.”

Damn straight.

Here’s what I love about this report: it makes a concise, direct argument for Hershey to implement fair trade practices without using shaming tactics or calling for their shareholders’ heads.  Hershey is number one in the chocolate market, and it does have a chance to make a drastic change in a part of the world known for its human rights violations, slavery and abusive work environment.  These demands aren’t unreasonable, and they’re made with a sense of respect for a company that could do a great deal of good…if it chose to.

Now that we know what Hershey should be doing, let’s talk about what you can do.

  1. Send a letter to Hershey demanding more accountability over its supply chain. Green America makes it easy.
  2. Support fair trade chocolate. You can download a chocolate scorecard (Kraft and Nestle are better than Hershey, but not by much) or use the National Green Pages.  (My favorite is Theo Chocolate.  If you’re ever in Seattle, you can tour their factory!)
  3. Learn more by hosting a screening of “The Dark Side of Chocolate.”
  4. Stop buying Hershey chocolate until the company changes its ways.

I know: the last one sounds tough.  Where will you get your Kit Kat fix?  What about Reese’s?  No one makes Reese’s like Hershey! (Coincidentally, no one is as adamant about avoiding fair trade as Hershey, either.)

Here’s the thing: your ethics are more important than your sweet tooth. Or your convenience.  Or your wallet.  A lot of people argue against some of this site’s more fervent boycotts – Target and Urban Outfitters, namely – because “every company does something you don’t like.  So what if these are anti-gay civil rights?  So’s the old lady that originally bought that vintage sweater you got at a garage sale.”  While I think that’s a bit of an apathetic cop-out, I can also understand the reasoning.

But buying Hershey chocolate, after knowing where their cocoa comes from?  After knowing that it’s made with the blood and sweat of children sold into slavery?

That’s not apathy.  That’s a blatant disregard for your fellow man.

So there’s your daily dose of guilt.  Don’t buy Hershey.  Tell them to change their ways.  And in the interim, there are a number of fair trade, ethically-sourced chocolates up for grabs.

*Raise the Bar is organized by Global Exchange, Green America, The International Labor Rights Forum and Oasis USA.  They all rock, and you should check them all out.

Images via GreenAmerica.org.

More information about the West African slave trade, forced labor practices, the cocoa industry and Hershey’s screwed up practices can be found at the following sites:

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Comments (36)

February 10, 2011 |

File under: The Corporate Connundrum

36 Responses to “Exposed: Hershey’s Chocolate”

  1. Poochie says:

    I have always thought that Hershey’s chocolates taste of petroleum.

    There are tons of great chocolate options. This should not be a hardship at all.

  2. Poochie: I agree. There are so many fair trade chocolates out there, and because the market is starting to saturate, many are often on sale or having specials! I personally love Theo, but have heard a TON of buzz about Green & Blacks. I need to try them.

  3. Jordana says:

    RT @errantly: I'm sorry, Heath, but we have to break up. NEW POST: Exposed: Hershey’s Chocolate http://t.co/5iwz2n5

  4. Exposed: Hershey’s Chocolate http://t.co/1y0foNO Green America, which is running the Hershey's Campaign, is a Climate Ride beneficiary!

  5. The sweets for your sweetie may not be made with fair trade chocolate. http://bit.ly/hO1vME, http://bit.ly/gt6xPw.

  6. [...] made goes to the Wildlife Conservation Society, which has a great rating on Charity Navigator. When the most popular chocolates are made by African slave labor, and roses are often shipped a long way from warmer climates – not so eco-friendly – a [...]

  7. Johnny D says:

    Hershey Chocolate: Forced Child Labor in Your Cocoa | Awakened Aesthetic http://bit.ly/equT2K

  8. Tim Newman says:

    Exposed: #Hershey’s #Chocolate http://t.co/DAi43Gx /via @AwakeAesthetic #cocoa #childlabor #trafficking #endslavery #forcedlabor @Hersheys

  9. Tim Newman says:

    Exposed: #Hershey’s #Chocolate http://t.co/DAi43Gx /via @AwakeAesthetic #cocoa #childlabor #trafficking #endslavery #forcedlabor @Hersheys

  10. Exposed: #Hershey’s #Chocolate http://t.co/DAi43Gx /via @AwakeAesthetic #cocoa #childlabor #trafficking #endslavery #forcedlabor @Hersheys

  11. Tim Newman says:

    RT @ILRF: Exposed: #Hershey’s #Chocolate http://t.co/DAi43Gx /via @AwakeAesthetic #cocoa #childlabor #trafficking #endslavery #forcedlab …

  12. Juan Ruiz says:

    RT @ILRF: Exposed: #Hershey’s #Chocolate http://t.co/DAi43Gx /via @AwakeAesthetic #cocoa #childlabor #trafficking #endslavery #forcedlab …

  13. RT @ILRF: Exposed: #Hershey’s #Chocolate http://t.co/DAi43Gx /via @AwakeAesthetic #cocoa #childlabor #trafficking #endslavery #forcedlab …

  14. RT @ILRF: Exposed: #Hershey’s #Chocolate http://t.co/DAi43Gx /via @AwakeAesthetic #cocoa #childlabor #trafficking #endslavery #forcedlab …

  15. Rodney North says:

    RT @tnewmstweet: Exposed: #Hershey’s #Chocolate http://t.co/DAi43Gx /via @AwakeAesthetic #cocoa #childlabor #trafficking #endslavery #fo …

  16. Hershey's and Child Labor. Read this and think about your Easter purchases this year. http://tinyurl.com/3j67b7d then come see us.

  17. RT @MoriahLorene: Facts about Hershey Chocolates use of child slavery: http://www.awakenedaesthetic.com/2011/02/exposed-hersheys-chocolate/

  18. Hershey’s Chocolate uses child slave labor. The blood of slaves suicides in your chocolate? http://t.co/IclUbms #slavery

  19. Hershey’s Chocolate uses child slave labor. The blood of slaves' suicides in your chocolate? Boycott Hersheys. http://t.co/IclUbms #slavery

  20. theArcher77 says:

    Hershey Chocolate: Forced Child Labor in Your Cocoa | Awakened Aesthetic http://t.co/BFAdSrX

  21. Antoinella says:

    Hardest boycot ever, but most worth it. Thank you for this article and this website, I never thought about where my money went after spending it until I read your articles.

  22. Donna says:

    Exposed: Hershey’s Chocolate http://t.co/eWTOBPO

  23. ankara says:

    someone is very mistaken.. Hershey get’s their cocoa from Argetina.. using south american labor, it’s hardly forced. Those people are so happy to have jobs in the first place, when they could be sitting in their shacks, sleeping on their mats with malaria, and no job, that they are climbing on top of each other to work. So they are hardly being forced. And, whether it’s Africa or Argentina, it doesn’t matter. They are willing working. They don’t have to work picking beans, they can starve and die instead.. (thoughtfully).. Right wing idiots…

    • This is like saying that child prostitutes working in a culture where that’s the only option to feed their family are grateful because “at least they have a job.” A major corporation allowing its cocoa to be sourced from companies that won’t pay a living wage is despicable.

      Don’t offer a starving child rotten meat and expect to get a pat on the back.

      • Megan says:

        No, I can totally understand where ankara is coming from. I agree. More than likely it’s NOT forced child labour. Not too long ago we had children working in factories. Yes, factories are not safe, but I’m not saying working in a field is either. It was very common for children to go to work to help support families by a certain age – if they didn’t they would all starve or be homeless. You have to look at it this way (and I’m not condoning this, fyi); an able bodied person will work for what they need. Other countries are not as lucky as we are to have everyone be educated and not have to work. If we as a country can give them a job and help with a life – then why not? And as ankara said, they have the choice they don’t have to work, they can starve. And I’m not saying this in a mean way. Besides, who REALLY believes this malarky about children being totally FORCED to work and BEATEN every day sapstory bullcrap. Gullible internet surfers, that’s who.

  24. Rafiki says:

    I enjoy chocolate, but I am afraid that I must not eat any more because of this TERRIBLE news that chocolate comes from slave labor in West Africa. I hope that this does not continue!

  25. Carmen says:

    Make your own chocolate snacks!

  26. It is a grave error to say that Nestle’s ethics are better than Hershey’s. Nestle has over 100 violations of the World Health Organization International Marketing Code for Breastmilk Substitutes. They refuse to address these deliberate violations, which are directly responsible for infant deaths both in developing nations and in the US. Their marketing of infant formula is deliberately misleading and aggressive.

    See this site for more info on the Nestle Boycott.


  27. Karla (@chicandsavvy101 ) says:

    Hi, here’s an updated article (Jan 2012) I authored on chocolate including expose’ on child slavery and human trafficking plus things we can do to stop this, including donation orgs, the CNN Freedom Project, and books. Awakened Aesthetic is a great site. Glad I found it. We should all awaken, hopefully in time. Thanks

  28. Unknown says:

    This is sad. Usually chocolate means pleasure and bliss. It shouldn’t be like this. At the same time, we need to work for it if we don’t think it’s acceptable. This means drafting legislations on chocolate companies; no being allowed to buy the slavery crop ot putting it on their wrapper that the chocolate may be the product of forced child labor. Also, if we want it to truly end, we need to help out in Africa, so they don’t have to depend on slavery.

  29. Mckinzy says:

    Wow, great post. This was so informative. I guess I am a little late, I know you posted this last year but THANK YOU. I have been searching for an hour on hershey’s website just trying to find something, anything, about where they purchase their beans or even the name of the supplier they purchase from.

    I also thank you for providing your sources. It is safe to say I will not be buying from Hershey’s anymore.

    Do you know anything about Ghirardelli? :)

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