Hershey’s Problem with The Worst Forms of Child Labor

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been trying to find the perfect analogy to a situation, and I just can’t seem to come up with one. It’s not that I have writer’s block, or that I’ve lost my creative edge. It’s just that the situation is so delicate that I wish to do everyone involved justice.

The major chocolate companies of the world have a problem on their hand, and they know it. The cheapest cocoa beans that were being sold by the cocoa commodity brokers, and were being purchased by representatives from the likes of Mars, Hershey’s, Guittard, and Archer Daniels Midland, re being grown and/or processed by children, some of whom are no better than slaves on the plantations where they toil.

Eleven years ago, the major producers signed on to the Cocoa Protocol, an international agreement signed in 2001, aimed at ending child labour in the production of cocoa. As I wrote about last year, it has been fairly clear that the major companies who signed the protocol missed their mark, in some areas by quite a large margin. Today, as you and I celebrate Valentine’s day, many of us with chocolate, children are suffering under the worst forms of child labor at cocoa plantations across Ghana and the Ivory Coast.

One of those signatories to the Protocol? Hershey’s.

Two weeks ago, to great fanfare, Hershey’s announced the following:

Over the next five years, Hershey will expand and accelerate programs to improve cocoa communities by investing $10 million in West Africa and continuing to work with experts in agriculture, community development and government to achieve progress with cocoa farmers and their families. By 2017, Hershey’s public and private partnerships will directly benefit 750,000 African cocoa farmers and over two million people in cocoa communities across the region.

Many advocates and activists who works around the issues surrounding the worst forms of child labor have said a variation of the following: It’s a good first start. The reason for the couched response is two fold:

  1. Hershey’s has tied the issues surrounding the worst form of child labor with “Improving the chocolate supply”. It says so right in the press release. “LONG-TERM COMMITMENT: Hershey to invest $10 million by 2017 to reduce child labor and improve cocoa supply in West Africa.”
  2. The amount of money committed, after it’s divided up, simply isn’t a whole hell of a lot. 2 million dollars divided by 750,000 farmers for the next five years adds up to $13 per farmer. The cost of living in either Ghana or the Ivory Coast is certainly less than living in the major areas of the United States. But not to the point where $2.66 means anything substantial.

I honestly don’t want to be the cynic in this instance, because the situation is such that any money spent, long term or short, is better than nothing. But for a company whose annual sales push close to $6 Billion dollars and net income pushes 500 million dollars, a $2 million dollar per year budget seems woeful. Especially when considering that the reason they can get such high profits is due, in part, to the low labor costs.

Two weeks ago, I worked with my publisher to write a response to Hershey’s gift.

There are times when timing can be everything. Mere days before this book was to go to printing, Hershey’s had a press release that spelled out their plans to institute a long term commitment to west Africa by investing $10 million dollars in the Ivory Coast and Ghana over five years, in order to reduce child labor and improve the cocoa supply. While $2 million dollars per year doesn’t break down to a lot of money on a per farmer basis, nor does Hershey’s pledge come anywhere close to the meeting the all of the articles established in the Cocoa Protocol, it is important to point out that their offer is a good first step.

Hershey’s has gotten a fair amount of positive press from their announcement, but if their recent history is any example of what we can expect from them, then they need to be held accountable to their pledge at the end of the five years, and we should demand evidence that demonstrates a marked drop in, if not outright elimination of, the worst forms of child labor. Anything else is simply not acceptable.

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