West Africa: Hershey Chocolate Linked to Child Labour

Washington — Hershey, one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in the U.S., is lagging behind other companies in taking steps to ensure decent working conditions in its supply chain, charges a new report.

"In the United States, Hershey conjures up innocent childhood pleasures and enjoyable snacks," according to "Time to Raise the Bar", a report released this week by four labour rights and fair trade groups. "However, halfway across the globe, there is a dark side to Hershey.

"In West Africa, where Hershey sources much of its cocoa, the scene is one of child labor, trafficking, and forced labor."

For the last decade, U.S. chocolate companies have been pressured to take responsibility for abuses in their supply chains.

Competing companies like Cadbury/Kraft, Mars and Nestle have made efforts to combat poor conditions in cocoa- growing countries. But Hershey, which claims 42.5 percent of the U.S. chocolate market, has been slow to initiate adequate measures against abuses, the report says.

Prepared by Global Exchange, Green America, the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), and Oasis USA, it criticises Hershey's continued refusal to identify cocoa suppliers. This "lack of transparency" makes it impossible for outside observers to verify the conditions on the farms, the groups say.

Hershey is also accused of "greenwashing" the problem, as opposed to instituting real reforms. Various charitable donations by the company display social responsibility, but there are no policies in place to combat the systemic issue of human rights within its own supply, the groups say.

Finally, Hershey does not have any third-party verification. Unlike its competitors, Hershey has not embraced the strongest system of certification, the Fair Trade label. Only one Hershey chocolate bar has the certification, leaving all the other popular products unaccountable.

In order to meet proper industry standards, the report recommends that Hershey begin "tracing its supply chain to the farm level, sourcing from farmers who can show through independent verification that they do not use forced labor or child labor, [and] asking suppliers to end such practices throughout their supply chain."

The groups are also seeking a commitment that the majority of Hershey's cocoa across all products will be Fair Trade Certified by 2022. A spokesperson for Hersey declined to directly address the charges in the report, referring IPS to the company's Corporate Social Responsibility Report.

"We have taken a number of steps as a company and an industry to increase farm-level incomes, build community sustainability and address the troubling issue of child labor in cocoa producing regions," the report reads.

"As a founding member of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) and the WCF's ECHOES (Empowering Cocoa Households with Opportunities and Education Solutions) Alliance, we work with industry peers to address these challenges in a collaborative manner."

On the same day "Time to Raise the Bar" was released, the U.S. government and the chocolate industry announced a pledge to commit 17 million dollars as part of a long-term commitment to eradicate child labour in the industry.

"If there's one thing people around the world share in common it's our love of chocolate," said Sen. Tom Harkin, one of the legislators involved in the new agreement. "But it is a bitter reality that the main ingredient in chocolate, cocoa, is produced largely by child labour."

The Harkin-Engel protocol, as it is known, was pushed forward by two U.S. congressmen after a 2001 investigation by Knight Ridder exposed the manipulative and abusive cocoa industry in Cote d'Ivoire.

Just a week before the ninth anniversary of the protocol, the two legislators, Sen. Harkin and Rep. Eliot Engel, expressed frustration at the "slow pace" of industry changes. The protocol had laid out a series of date-specific actions that would lead to industry standards of public certification by Jul. 1, 2005. That deadline was met with very little improvements by industry representatives.

The major corporations subsequently promised to accelerate the measures in the protocol and cover at least 50 percent of farm areas in Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. The new plan, which calls for a 70-percent reduction in internationally unacceptable child labour by 2020, is being funded through 10 million dollars from the U.S. Labour Department and seven million from companies in the industry. The money will go toward building schools and supporting rural families in Ghana and the Cote d'Ivoire, two of the largest cocoa producers.

But for many labour rights advocates, the new initiative is not good enough.

"When you look at the amount of money in the cocoa industry and the enormous profits of companies like Hershey, the money dedicated to this issue is clearly inadequate," said Adrienne Fitch-Frankel, fair trade campaign director for Global Exchange.

"Companies need to start taking responsibility for their own supply chains," Tim Newman, campaigns director for ILRF, told IPS.

The collaboration with the Department of Labour was voluntary, with no obligation for companies to participate. Advocates argue that constant government support only encourages the companies to continue ignoring the problem.

"Why should the government be paying for this problem?" asked Fitch-Frankel. "Anything short of third-party certification or international law will not solve the issue."

Labour abuses in many industries still plague the people of developing countries. The Hershey report notes that "modern slavery exists in diverse areas, including manufacturing, harvesting of raw materials, marketing commercial sexual activity (often aimed at the business traveler) and violent acts against workers."

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