Consumer rights activists are asking chocolate lovers to think twice before buying Hershey products this summer because the chocolate is tainted with forced and child labor.
Leaders of the Raise the Bar Hershey Campaign say it’s been nearly 10 years since chocolate companies, including Hershey’s, signed a protocol committing them to eliminating abusive child labor, forced labor and trafficking from their cocoa supply chains. However researchers found that such abuses continue to exist in West African cocoa farms, especially in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, where Hershey purchases most of its cocoa to produce its chocolate bars and other products.
Campaign leaders are urging consumers to take a stand against Hershey’s labor violations. Although many of the biggest chocolate companies have started to use cocoa that has been certified by independent, third parties to comply with international labor standards, Hershey continues to lag behind.
Amanda Kloer, editor of Change.org, said she is getting the word out to consumers that they should choose other brands for their campfire treats until Hershey makes a commitment to ending child labor in its cocoa supply chain by shifting to fair-trade-certified cocoa.
“As chocolate lovers we want Hershey to buy better cocoa,” said Kloer. “We also want the company to be transparent about where they buy their cocoa and to ensure child abuses are not tainting their products. We need Hershey to step up and take responsibility for what’s really going on.”
Kloer said consumer activists are leaving “Consumer Alert” cards on the shelves in front of Hershey products, as well as on Hershey’s S’mores promotional displays. The alert cards include a code to allow shoppers to take action on their smartphones in the store as part of a larger campaign, including an online petition with over 13,000 supporters.
“Consumers have tremendous power to change the unethical practices of companies,” says Kloer. “That’s why activists are using the online platforms and innovative organizing strategies like QR codes to educate and empower consumers to take action.”
Maria Louzon, student organizer with United Students for Fair Trade, said, “For too long Hershey has ignored consumer requests to buy ethical, certified cocoa for its chocolate bars. We hope Hershey won’t be able to ignore the message when it’s placed on its products.”
Kloer says a broad consumer movement by people who want major companies to sell ethically produced products is driving the Hershey campaign. She hopes the campaign will get Hershey’s attention and force them respond to consumers’ concerns.
Nonprofit groups Green America, International Labor Rights Forum, and Global Exchange are organizing the campaign. Over 42,000 consumers have taken action by sending e-mails and postcards, signing petitions, and making phone calls to the company asking it to end child labor. Consumers interested in participating can go to www.raisethebarhershey.org to download a consumer alert card, print it out, and film and upload their own experiences.
Photo: An African child works on a cocoa farm. Courtesy of International Labor Rights Forum.