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.”
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.
- Send a letter to Hershey demanding more accountability over its supply chain. Green America makes it easy.
- 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!)
- Learn more by hosting a screening of “The Dark Side of Chocolate.”
- 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.
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:
- Global Cocoa Project
- Project Hope and Fairness
- The US Dept. of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor