We are living in a pessimistic age. People are no longer shocked when they hear that a well-known organization, such as Walmart or Monsanto, has committed a heinous crime and then made matters worse by concealing the implications of its acts from the general public. But, even in a world of flagrant and pervasive misuse of authority, the Hershey Company’s activities have a green side that makes the company especially egregious. Ghana and the Ivory Coast, the world’s two largest cocoa producers, account for roughly 60 to 70 percent of global cocoa production. Based on the Tulane University’s 2013/14 survey of child labor in the region, more than 2.3 million kids were working in cocoa production, and more than 2 million youths were involved in precarious work in cocoa production in Ghana and Ivory Coast. Hershey is the largest manufacturer of chocolate and other chocolate products in the world and sources most of its cocoa from West Africa. Cocoa is the primary raw material used in the manufacture of chocolate. The company buys the primary ingredient in its products from sources that are noted to be notorious for abusing labor practices that include child slavery, forced labor, and human trafficking (Barrientos 213).
In the year 2009, the Payson Center for International Development published an article for the evaluation of kids labor in the cocoa supply chain. The assessment was published at Tulane University. The study realized that child labor is widespread in the regions of West Africa, especially within Ivory Coast, where the company gets its cocoa supply, and also that involuntary and forced labor was common. Ivory Coast is located in the southern region of the West African coast and is known to be the world’s great supplier of cocoa, producing about 43 percent of the world’s supply. Based on an investigative report by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), thousands of children are being brought from their homes for a pittance, and in some instances outright stolen, and later shipped to Ivory Coast, where the children are enslaved on the cocoa farms. The children distinctively come from the neighboring countries like Togo, Burkina Faso, and Mali. Most of the parents are destitute hence sell their children to the trafficker believing that the children will get an honest work once they reach in Ivory Coast and later send some part of their earnings home. But a critical analysis reveals that it does not happen. The children usually of 11 to 17 years or even younger forced to do hard labor for about 80 to 100 hours a week. The children are paid nothing, get no education, under fed, beaten on regular occasions, and usually viciously beaten when they attempt to escape. Most of the kids never see their families again. One of the freed slaves by the name Aly Diabate told the reports that, The beatings were part of my life. Anytime they loaded bags of cocoa beans and you fall when carrying the bags (McKinney, Stephen, Hill and Honor 55). Nobody helped you. Instead, they beat you and flog you until you pick it up again. Some people like Brian Woods have made films regarding some of the world’s bad human rights abuses. Brian tells of meeting a young man from Mali by the name Drisaa who was once seized to serve on an Ivory Coast cocoa farm. Drissa had scars all over his body according to Brian revealing that he was persistently tortured during the time he was serving on the cocoa farm. After a thorough investigation of the relative conditions of the workers, the news found its way to the Congress that led to the legislation of seeking the Federal Drug Administration to introduce the Slave Free labeling for chocolate products sold in the US. However, before the bill found its way to the vote, the chocolate industry- Mars, Nestle, and Hershey made the promise of self-regulating and implementing voluntary standards to ensure that the chocolate delivered without the worst forms of child labor. The chocolate industry has not yet made any significant steps in ending child slavery, and the problem is reported to get worse (Carol 11). Although the prospect of chocolate industrys assurance to provide a slave-free chocolate may seem bleak, there is no optimism of this to be achieved. The blame for the slavery in cocoa production has been moved from one faction to another. Those who traffic or sell the children to the farmers once claimed that they never saw the slavery. The Ivorian government accused the people selling and using slaves, and the government blamed the multinational chocolate organizations for keeping cocoa prices low and the farmers in poverty. They have claimed that this has forced most of the farmers to use slave labor to meet their daily needs (Lee, Seunghee and Julie 13).
Purchasing cocoa from such farms that use such abusive child labor practices makes Hershey keep its costs significantly low and maximize its profits. In the year 2010, the company reported a net profit of 54 percent due to what it termed as improved supply-chain efficiencies. Such type of abilities enables the CEO, David J. West, to make a whopping $8 million every year while the unpaid kids are forced to labor under hard conditions on the cocoa farms that provide the company with cocoa. The reality of the abusive child labor situations on the West African cocoa farms has been a longstanding and intricate issue for the entire chocolate industry. Although Hersheys main competitors have taken significant steps to reduce and eliminate child slavery and other types of child labor abuses from their chocolate supply chain, Hershey has done almost nothing to stop the vice. In the year 2010, on the incident of the founding father Milton Hersheys 153rd birthday anniversary, the firm issued its first ever Corporate Social Responsibility report. Long on platitudes and promises, this was a classic example of the cat of green washing- the PR effort to deceive the public into thinking that Hershey’s policies and products are socially responsible, when in the real world they are not (Lee, Seunghee and Julie 14).
Meanwhile, on the same day, the coalition of public interest nonprofit groups that includes the Global Exchange, Oasis USA, Green America, and ILRF issued a critical counter-report that was titled Time to Raise the Bar. The report carefully researched and pointed out that Hershey Company stays behind its competitors in taking responsibility for the impact the organization is having on the local communities from which the group sources cocoa around the world. Hershey Company is conscious of the fact that small chocolate companies in the United States have for many years bought only Fair Trade Certified cocoa, hence ensuring that cocoa farmers get enough money to support their homes, invest in their future, and send their families to school. Hershey Company claims that although this is possible for the smaller companies, it would not be possible for the enterprise as large as Hershey. But the time to raise the bar made it clear that it is not only the smaller companies who have undertaken important strategies. Most of the largest global chocolate companies are increasingly sourcing cocoa that has been certified by various independent organizations to meet social, labor, environmental, and labor standards (McKinney, Stephen, Hill and Honor 58).
Other companies publicly currently identify their sources of cocoa, but not Hershey. Various companies employ third-party certification for the cocoa they get from West African countries, but not all. Some like Cadbury Dairy Milk in the UK made its all trade certified. The firm not only converted its high-selling chocolate bar to Fair Trade, but the company also lengthened its Fair Trade Certified Dairy Milk Bar to Canada, Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand. Some companies like Ben and Jerrys lay some steps further to comply with the standards. The organization did not only commit to achieving to achieving Fair Trade Certification for all the cocoa it receives. To some extent, the slavery in cocoa production has been met with some other positive side for instance; the United States Representative Eliot Engel earlier introduced the legislative amendment that seeks to fund the development of the no child slavery label for the chocolate products that are sold in the US. Senator Tom Harkin proposed another amendment to the agriculture bill to label cocoa products and qualified chocolate products as slave free. The chocolate makers were to come up with programs in West African countries to make the citizens aware of the consequences of child labor and keeping their kids from child trafficking (Barrientos 213). The major incentive for the chocolate makers voluntary participation may be the addition of slave free label.
Although little progress has been made to provide a slave-free chocolate industry, most of the companies have agreed to work together and eliminate what the ILO refers to as the worst forms of child labor. Currently, most of the young population of the West African cocoa farms endures what can be termed the worst forms of child labor. In spite of their roles in the contribution to child slavery, trafficking, and labor, the companies have not made useful progress to meet the ILO standards. Series of oversight boards and alliances may create effective public relations, but cloud the reality that the companies have the ability to end the use of child labor and slave use by paying the cocoa farmers the living wages for their cocoa. The chocolate industry is also required to develop and financially support programs that rescue and rehabilitate children who have been taken and sold to the cocoa farms. To date, it has been noted that the industry has not fully complied and committed to such programs (Nolan 7).
Barrientos, Stephanie. “Beyond Fair Trade.” The Economics of Chocolate (2016): 213.
Lee, Seunghee Maria, and Julie M. Fagan. “Bitter Truth Behind Sweet Chocolate.” (2015).
McKinney, Stephen J., R. J. Hill, and Honor Hania. “Child slavery and child labor.” Pastoral
Review 11.2 (2015): 54-60.
Nolan, Teri. “Deadly Lies and Chocolate: The Juxtaposition of Media-Hyped Sexism with
Industrialized Child Slavery.” (2015).
Off, Carol. Bitter chocolate: Investigating the dark side of the world’s most seductive sweet.
Brisbane, AU: Univ. of Queensland Press, 2016.