Hershey melts… a little

Submitted by aatkins on February 1, 2012

For the first time ever, Hershey is accepting responsibility for the problems in its cocoa supply chain — but only for one product in its vast line of chocolate.  This baby-step by the biggest chocolate company in the US has renewed the call for the chocolate giant to go Fair Trade.   
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Students gathered outside of the Hershey store in New York City in June 2011

On January 30th, The Hershey Company announced that it would make a commitment to purchasing Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa for all of its Bliss Chocolate products, starting later this year.  Hershey also announced it would spend an estimated $10 million on farmer education and CocoaLink over the next five years.

This commitment to work with Rainforest Alliance is a welcome first step for Hershey to improve its supply chain accountability and monitor its use of child labor.  Unlike many of its competitors, this is the first time Hershey has pledged to use an independent, third-party certification system to ensure that its cocoa is grown sustainably, including the monitoring of forced and child labor.  This announcement demonstrates that management at the Hershey Company acknowledges the severity of the labor abuses that taint the West African cocoa sector, from where Hershey sources the majority of its cocoa.

Hershey’s announcement comes after years of organizing consumer actions, creative holiday activities, in-classroom actions, brand jamming contests, and protests and rallies at flagship Hershey stores around the country.  It also happened to come out less than one week after the Raise the Bar, Hershey Campaign announced that an ad would run during the Super Bowl that would highlight the company’s use of child slavery in cocoa production.

Because of Hershey’s recent announcement to begin to source certified cocoa we have decided not to run the ad, however, this does not mean the campaign is over.  We will continue to press Hershey for greater transparency in its cocoa supply chain and a commitment to monitor and prevent child labor in all of the products it sells.  

As for Hershey’s monetary pledge and its plan to expand CocoaLink, we remain skeptical.  CocoaLink, a program launched by Hershey and the World Cocoa Foundation in Ghana last year, aims to increase yields and productivity on small cocoa farms by introducing new plants, techniques, and inputs to small farmers and provide them with real-time tips via SMS text messages.  The idea is that by increasing yields, farmers will have more income and the need for child labor will decrease.

It’s not clear how increased yields would actually eliminate the worst forms of child labor but monitoring is a good first step, which Hershey will be able to do for the small portion of cocoa it sources for Bliss products.

However, while Rainforest Alliance certification provides a means to identify child labor, we have concerns that it does not go as far as fair trade certification does to address poverty in West African cocoa-growing communities, one of the root causes of forced child labor.

Rainforest Alliance (RA) does not require buyers to pay a specific minimum floor price for cocoa beans, nor are there additional funds allocated to cooperatives for community development, as in fair trade certification.  RA reasons that by producing higher quality and sustainable cocoa beans, farmers should be able to earn a higher price for their beans over time.

According to Rainforest Alliance’s website: “Rather than emphasizing how products are traded, Rainforest Alliance certification–awarded to farms that meet the comprehensive standards of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN)–focuses on how farms are managed. The SAN standards encompass all aspects of sustainability (social, environmental and economic) and empower farmers with the knowledge and skills to negotiate for themselves in the global marketplace. Farmers engaged in the Rainforest Alliance Certified program learn to grow smart, increasing their bottom line today…”

Increasing yields and efficiency may be a way to increase income temporarily but without any price guarantees it only guarantees more cocoa for Hershey’s.  Relying on the market to set the price and the farmers’ incomes, means that when yields increase, the price will drop.   What will the efficiency and higher yields cost in terms of chemical inputs, strain on water resources, additional manual labor needs, and environmental  sustainability?

While fair trade is about social justice—building solidarity between producers, consumers and business—Rainforest Alliance, and some of the other certification systems like Utz, seem to primarily serve companies by increasing the availability of cocoa and securing supply.

Finally, for RA labeled products, only 30% of the primary ingredient needs to be certified in order to earn an RA label.  So, a chocolate bar bearing the RA label may contain 30% RA-certified cocoa while the remainder could be produced by forced, child, or trafficked labor. (Though Hershey claims 100% of the cocoa in the Bliss Bars will be RA certified).

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, a major sales day for Hershey, it’s time to keep the pressure on Hershey, letting the company know we expect greater supplier transparency and the complete elimination of forced child labor in all Hershey products.

In response to Hershey’s announcement, fourteen-year-old Jasper Perry-Anderson from Philadelphia started a petition calling on Hershey to continue to raise the bar.  She is targeting the directors of the Hershey Trust this time, who are in control of Hershey’s profits and the Milton Hershey School. Sign her petition today!

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