When it comes to labor rights, The Hershey Company hasn’t been doing much to ingratiate itself to the public in the recent past. Last year, the company was caught in a scandal when foreign exchange student interns reached out to the U.S. State Department and sparked an investigation over unfair treatment. Many consumer groups are worried that Hershey is still dragging its feet when it comes to concerns of child labor and abuse abroad, so they are forcing the issue – and it seems to be working. Early this week Hershey announced its commitment to sourcing cocoa only from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms for its Hershey’s Bliss line of chocolates, as well as an investment of $10 million by 2017 to help end child labor in West Africa.
According to a press release from The Hershey Company, Hershey will be investing in its overseas cocoa operations through a variety of projects including a “LEARN TO GROW” Farm and Family Development Center in Ghana and a mobile phone program for farmers on the Ivory Coast. The goal, it is stated, is to reinforce sustainability efforts and promote fair labor throughout West Africa.
“Hershey is extending our commitment with new programs to drive long-term change in cocoa villages where families will benefit from our investments in education, health and economic opportunities,” said J.P. Bilbrey, President and CEO of The Hershey Company in the press release. “Our global consumers want The Hershey Company to be a leader in responsible business practices and in finding smart ways to benefit cocoa communities. We are excited and humbled by this opportunity to create positive change in West Africa.”
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Indeed, global consumers may have a lot to do with this decision. A consumer-based campaign has been in action for several years asking Hershey to change its ways, bolstered by written and online petitions and spearheaded by responsible cocoa advocate group Raise the Bar, Hershey! Most recently, the International Labor Right Forum scheduled an ad drawing attention to Hershey’s child labor underbelly to run during this weekend’s Super Bowl XLIV – it is probably not a coincidence that Hershey made this announcement less than a week before the ad was set to air.
"It’s great to see Hershey's take this first step towards accountability in their supply chain. We will continue to push them to ensure a better price for cocoa farmers so they can stop depending on forced child labor," said Judy Gearhart, Executive Director of the International Labor Rights Forum, in a press release issued today. "The threat of a Super Bowl ad certainly increased the pressure, but Hershey’s new agreement is really the result of thousands of consumers, students, church congregations and community groups writing to them over the past two years.”