Bitter Chocolate for Hershey and Others: How Candy Fuels Child Labor

In February, chocolate is a popular items for St. Valentine’s Day.  Chocolate does better on Halloween and Easter but St. Valentine’s Day is pretty good as well.  These chocolate holidays are the targets for Green America.  Green America wants to raise awareness of how child labor is used and exploited in the production of chocolate.  Green America is pushing a fair supply chain that asks companies to refuse to purchase cocoa (key ingredient of chocolate) from growers using and abusing child labor, including slave labor.  Moreover, the oppressive government in the Ivory Coast, a major supplier of cocoa, uses chocolate money to stay in power.  Green America is trying to raise awareness as a means of stimulating action.  It asks people to contact Hershey, the main supplier of chocolate in the US, and demand that Hershey change its purchasing of cocoa or face a boycott.  The campaign is known as “Raise the Bar Hershey.”  Here is some of the text form messages they are encouraging people to send:

As a conscientious consumer of chocolate I have one very simple question for you—where is the Fair Trade Hershey Bar?

When I go to buy chocolate, I look for Fair Trade Certified™ cocoa because I know it was made without the worst forms of child labor, forced labor, or human trafficking.  Fair Trade also provides farmers with enough income to care for their families and send their children to school.  I find it unbelievable that Hershey, a company founded on the principle of caring for underprivileged children in the United States, would be comfortable sourcing cocoa that has likely been produced with the worst forms of child labor. 

Shifting to third-party certification is entirely possible, as evidenced by other major chocolate companies such as Cadbury and Nestlé. Green & Black’s and Ben & Jerry’s have both recently committed to going 100% Fair Trade! More and more consumers are seeking out responsible choices—the market is ready for a Fair Trade chocolate bar bearing the Hershey name.

I ask that you meet the goals of the “Raise The Bar, Hershey!” campaign, which include:

* an agreement to take immediate action to eliminate forced and child labor in your cocoa supply chain;

* a commitment to sourcing 100% Fair Trade Certified™ cocoa beans by 2012 for at least one of your top five selling chocolate bars that prominently displays the Hershey name; and

* a commitment to making at least one additional top five selling bar 100% Fair Trade Certified™ every two years thereafter, so that Hershey’s top five selling cocoa bars will all be 100% Fair Trade Certified™ within 10 years.

I look forward to the day that I can choose a Fair Trade Tell Hershey

Green America is upset because the problem of child labor in the cocoa industry has been well known in the industry for many years.  Here is a summary of the problem written in 2010: 

“Hershey’s, Nestlé, and the other big chocolate companies know this. They promised nearly a decade ago to set up a system to certify that no producers in their supply chains use child labor. They gave themselves a July 2005 deadline for that, which came and went without meaningful action. A second voluntary deadline sailed by as well in 2008. There’s a new deadline for voluntary action at the end of this year. Don’t hold your breath.”  Child Slavery

Green America use a variety of communication tactics to make their point.  Here is part of a recent news release:

Planning on buying your sweetheart Hershey chocolates for Valentine’s Day?  You might not be “in the mood” to do so if you knew where that chocolate came from in Western Africa, where trafficked child labor is widely used for chocolate production.  Unlike most leading global chocolate makers (including those in the U.S.), Hershey is still declining to take steps to curb such abuses in its supply chain.  No Kisses

A key communication element is the documentary “The Dark Side of Chocolate.”  The documentary shows the child labor and abuse within the cocoa industry.  For six dollars, people are sent a copy of the DVD and asked to show it to their friends.  There are also documents rate chocolate companies using a score card related to human rights.  People are also encourage to post messages on Hershey’s Facebook page 

You might ask why Hershey?  Here is the answer:

Hershey is America’s favorite chocolate brand, accounting for 42.5% of the US market. Yet, inside almost every Hershey chocolate product is the bitter truth that the cocoa used to produce the chocolate may very well have been produced under harmful conditions, including forced labor, human trafficking, and abusive child labor.

Since at least 2001, the Hershey Company has been aware of the problems that exist at the start of its supply chain, yet it continues to source from this region without ensuring that labor rights abuses do not occur in the production of the cocoa it uses.

Here is a summary of why we are asking Hershey to Raise The Bar:

Sourcing Much of Hershey’s cocoa is sourced from West Africa, a region plagued by forced labor, human trafficking and abusive child labor. Hershey does not have a system in place to ensure that its cocoa purchases from this region are not tainted by labor rights abuses.
Transparency Hershey continuously refuses to identify its cocoa suppliers; therefore it is impossible to verify that its chocolate was not made under conditions of abusive child labor.
Certification A reputable, independent, third-party certification can ensure that a process is in place to identify and remediate labor rights abuses. For cocoa, the strongest certification system currently available is Fair Trade. Unlike many of its competitors, Hershey’s has not embraced certification. Only one of Hershey’s chocolate bars, in its Dagoba line, is Fair Trade Certified.
Laggard Hershey lags behind its competitors when it comes to purchasing cocoa that has been certified to meet certain labor, social, and environmental standards. Most major chocolate companies offer Fair Trade options now, and many smaller companies have been 100% Fair Trade for years.
Greenwashing Hershey points to various charitable donations to children in the US and programs in West Africa as examples of its social responsibility, yet has no policies in place to ensure that the cocoa used in its products is not produced with forced, trafficked, or child labor.

Questions to Consider

1.  How ethical is it target Hershey?  Provide a rationale for your answer.

2.  Is the Green America campaign a type of astroturfing?  Provide a rationale for your answer.

3.  How does this case illustrate the shift in tactics activists and others use in today’s public relations?

4.  What else could Green America be doing to raise awareness of this issue?  To get people to act on this issue?

5.  Do you consider this issue to be legitimate?  Why or why not?

6.  If you worked for Hershey, what actions would you recommend be taken in reaction to this effort and why?

7.  How does the case illustrate the effects of globalization?

8.  How does this case related to transparency and CSR?

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