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Hershey faces boycott as school it funds rejects HIV-positive pupil

By Oliver Nieburg , 11-Apr-2012
Last updated on 12-Apr-2012 at 09:17 GMT

Campaign material from the Aids Healthcare Foundation
Campaign material from the Aids Healthcare Foundation

The Hershey Company is facing a boycott of its products as a school it funds in the US refused to admit a 13-year-old boy over his HIV-positive status.

The Hershey Company has told ConfectioneryNews.com that the school and the company are separate entities, but the Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF) says it bears some responsibility as the main funder.

Protests led by AHF over Easter saw demonstrations across the US and in India and Mexico.

A 30-second TV ad calling on the Hershey chocolate company to denounce the boy’s rejection and enrol him at the school began airing on major networks including CNN, MSNBC and MTV in some US cities.

AHF protest in Mexico

Hershey School: Protection measure

In December last year, The Hershey Trust’s Milton Hershey School in Pennsylvania was sued in federal court as it turned away a 13-year-old boy with HIV status, calling him “a direct threat to the health and safety of others”.

The private boarding school, which features Hershey directors on its own Board, said in a statement: “The School decided that it could not admit the student who uses the pseudonym Abraham Smith due to factors relating to his HIV-positive status.”

It said that although it understood HIV could not be transmitted through casual contact, the boy could engage sexually with other students and therefore rejected admission to protect other students.

‘Illegal discrimination’

The AHF has called for a stop to Hershey’s continuing “path of discrimination” and accused it of lacking basic knowledge about the spread of HIV.

Michael Weinstein, AHF president said: “Ultimately, it is the Hershey Company itself, as the main funder of the school that must answer for the decision not to admit the boy.”

“If Hershey is truly a company that believes in its social responsibility, it will denounce this illegal and repugnant discrimination and enrol the boy at the school.”

Milton Hershey School in Pennsylvania

He said that the AHF would “shame Hershey” if it failed to act by asking the chocolate-buying public to boycott Hershey products.

The AHF has embarked on a social media campaign and has said it will contribute up to $50,000 for the boy’s legal fees.

Hershey Company: ‘separate legal entities’

Hershey Company director of corporate communications Jeff Beckman told this site that his company bore no responsibility for the school's decision.

“The Hershey Company and Milton Hershey School are separate legal entities that operate independently.

“The Hershey Company is not involved in the school's operations,” he said.

Milton S Hershey, founder of the chocolate company, established a trust fund for the school designed for children from low-income families in 1909, which came largely from his own pocket but included shares of the Hershey Company.

Today the Trust has grown in value exceeding $7bn, which includes the original Trust fund and shares of the Hershey Company.

Lori Yeghiayan, communications at AHF told this site: "They may wish to separate themselves from the school at this time – but having three board members in common seems like a pretty close business relationship.The boycott will continue."

Beckman declined to comment on how the boycott had affected Hershey's Easter sales.

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