News Update

Halloween A Celebration of Children, Not Child Slavery

Posted October 15th 2010

A lot of chocolate goes into circulation during Halloween, from the cocoa plantations of West Africa to the processors mainly in Europe, to the grocery stores of Western countries, and into the pillow cases, bags, hands and mouths of consuming children and their parents. Among shoppers and sweet-toothed chocoholics, Hershey’s brand is considered a delicacy, with a recognized name, a Pennsylvanian tradition, but an unknown reality of supporting child labour overseas and job cuts at home to keep production costs down.

Global Exchange, a US-based non-governmental organization with a well-known brand as an educator on world issues and a tradition of campaigning against corporate power in the food industry, produced a corporate social responsibility report last month on Hershey’s, “Time to Raise the Bar”. This document calls upon Hershey’s to take real action on human rights violations in its cocoa supply chain, including independent verification that no forced labour or child trafficking is taking place, a commitment to converting one of its top five selling bars to 100% fair trade sourced, and a plan for future fair trade conversion of its products.

The Hershey Company is one of the oldest (founded in 1894) and largest chocolate companies in the US. Headquartered at Hershey, Pa, it had a 2009 net revenue of US$5.3 Billion, a CEO who earned over US$8 Million that year, and 13,000 employees worldwide. Hershey accounts for 42.5% of the US chocolate market and is known for its Reese’s peanut butter and chocolate treats, its Kisses, Kit Kat, Mounds, Rolo and many other products.

Critics cite a lack of transparency as a key problem at Hershey’s. Company officials have been unwilling to allow independent tracing of the sources of its cocoa in order to verify that no child labour is being used. Recent Hershey annual general meetings have included resolutions to undertake this process, but they have been rejected by staff and board, as policy changes might jeopardize the company’s “competitive standing”.

Certification is another issue facing Hershey’s. More and more companies are signing up to a variety of fair trade and organic certification programs because of changing attitudes among consumers to be more green and ethical. Grocery shoppers are finding a growing number of coffees, teas, fresh and dried fruit, cocoa products, spices, jams, oils, rice and other foods available with fair trade certified, organic, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ Certified and other labels. Cadbury’s has converted its top-selling Dairy Milk bar to Fair Trade Certified (FTC), in cooperation with a United Nations program, and consumers are showing their purchasing support in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada. One-quarter of Dairy Milk’s global sales, fully 350 million bars, will be available as FTC by the end of 2010.

Through the Cadbury Cocoa Partnership established in January 2008, the aim is to benefit one million farmers in Ghana, India, Indonesia and the Caribbean. Both Cadbury’s and Hershey’s are known for their original social missions in creating company towns for their workers. Ironically, because Cadbury’s has an agreement with Hershey’s to handle its production and marketing in the US market, no fair trade certified chocolate bars are being made or sold in the States. Other smaller companies, such as Divine, Ben & Jerry’s, Sweet Earth, Dagoba, Cocoa Camino, Equita, Alter Eco and others have all joined the North American market as fair trade.

Larger companies, such as Kraft and Mars, are using Rainforest Alliance certification for their chocolate products, which focuses more on environmental regulations and initiatives than labour issues. Cargill, Heinz, Nestle and others are working on a new certification program through UTZ, the weakest designation as it is more corporate controlled. Recently, Hershey’s purchased the parent company of Dagoba, but has continued the tradition of using fair trade cocoa products in that brand. However, this still amounts to less than 1% of Hershey’s total production. Kraft has acquired Cadbury’s, but has not interfered with its Dairy Milk bar going fair trade certified.

Founders Milton and Catherine Hershey established their company with a mission of “responsible community stewardship”. They established a school for disadvantaged children and the “model town” of Hershey, Pa. The company also supports many charities related to health, children and poverty. Again, ironically, along with its continued connection to child slavery, Hershey has been reorganizing its global supply chain and thereby reducing its US workforce, moving production to Monterrey, Mexico, the “home” of maquilladoras (exploitive labour factories).

The corporate world is beginning its shift toward green, ethical and fair trade production and marketing. Hershey’s is lagging behind and must move into the Twenty-first Century with its labour practices. Children learn about child labour and fair trade in school, and their passion is for sweet treats flavoured with social justice. When they know that Halloween fun is a product of the suffering of kids their age, they will abandon Hershey’s and other unethical companies and choose the FTC label.

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This program was made possible with financial support of the Government of Manitoba,
and was undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada (GAC)

Government of ManitobaGlobal Affairs Canada