The company’s record in terms of accountability and transparency in its cocoa supply chain has been taken to task by the groups including the International Labor Rights Forum and Green America.
The campaigners maintain that Hershey dominates 42.5 per cent of the U.S. chocolate market, but is not doing enough, in comparison to its competitors, to ensure sustainability and elimination of child trafficking and labour in its cocoa purchasing.
Chocolate companies that do better include Cadbury/Kraft, Mars and Nestle, they claim.
The groups added that Hershey's own Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report, released this week, fails to provide any evidence that it is making progress in addressing these issues.
And the advocates argue that unlike other leading confectioners, Hershey's has not embraced Fairtrade certification. The campaigners commented that only one of the US confectionery manufacturer’s chocolate bars, from the Dagoba line it acquired in 2006, uses Fairtrade cocoa.
According to Hershey’s own CSR reporting, it is continuing to support initiatives set up under the Harkin-Engel Protocol that address the labour challenges in the cocoa sectors of West Africa. These include the Global Issues Group and the International Cocoa Initiative.
“These programmes have made a positive difference in the lives of 500,000 farming families over the past decade,” stresses the US confectioner in its CSR publication.
However, Tim Newman, campaigns director at the International Labour Rights Forum (ILRF) told ConfectioneryNews.com that its organisation is opposed to the Harkin-Engel Protocol. “Through our observation of the process over the past nine years, we believe that the various industry programmes under the Protocol have failed to make any real strides in the elimination of child labour from the cocoa supply chain.”
The campaigners cite research from Tulane University, whose 2009 assessment of child labour in the cocoa supply chain in the Ivory Coast and Ghana found that children are frequently involved in weeding, plucking cocoa pods, gathering and heaping cocoa pods, and other cocoa-growing activities.
The US study also notes that 15 per cent of children surveyed reported forced or involuntary work in the 12 months prior to the release of their publication. In addition, they found that nearly 50 per cent of children working in cocoa farming in West Africa reported injuries from their work in the past year.
Newman argues that chocolate companies need to be held responsible for their cocoa sourcing:
“We believe that some voluntary programmes are well meaning but regulatory action such as the US Department of Labor’s list of goods produced by child or forced labour raises public awareness about the incidence of the issue in the production of goods in the countries listed and more effectively promotes efforts to eliminate such practices.”
And the four groups have called for certain commitments from Hershey on its cocoa sourcing from now until 2022 including a pledge to purchase 100 per cent Fairtrade certified cocoa beans by 2012 for at least one of its top five selling chocolate bars.
Additionally, the campaigners are urging the US confectioner to make another of its top five selling bars 100 per cent Fairtrade certified every two years thereafter, so that Hershey's top five selling cocoa bars will all be 100 per cent certified within 10 years.
Finally, the advocates are seeking a commitment that the majority of Hershey's cocoa across all its products will be Fairtrade certified by 2022.
Newman said that the advocates have sought several meetings with the US company over their claims and he said that Hershey has confirmed that it will engage in a dialogue with the campaigners following on from the release of its CSR report. “We hope the manufacturer will take our calls for third party certification commitments seriously,” he added.
ConfectioneryNews.com contacted Hershey for a comment on the campaigners’ allegations but a response was not forthcoming in time for publication.