The Hershey Company faces a lawsuit from a shareholder that claims it uses cocoa produced through unlawful child labor in West Africa.
The action filed by shareholder Louisiana Municipal Police Employees' Retirement System (LAMPERS) seeks a court order demanding Hershey to make its company books and records open to shareholders.
It contends the records contain evidence of child labor abuses in Ghana and the Ivory Coast including forced labor and human trafficking.
The suit comes soon after Hershey made a commitment to use 100% certified cocoa by 2020. Certifiers such as Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade conduct audits to stomp out the worst forms of child labor and ensure fair working conditions for farmers.
Slave labor claims
Grant & Eisenhofer co-managing director Jay Eisenhofer, who is counsel to LAMPERS, said: "That one of the world's leading confectioners ─ whose primary market is children ─ could exploit child laborers to meet its bottom line is an outrage."
"Rather than open its records to scrutiny, Hershey over the past decade has thrown up multiple roadblocks to reasonable examination of its conduct regarding serious questions about illegal child slave labor and trafficking in its supply chain."
ConfectioneryNews.com asked Hershey if it planned to release its records or contend the case, but it refused to comment on pending litigation.
Harkin Engel Protocol
LAMPERS is basing its claim on alleged broken promises from the 2001 Harkin Engel Protocol, a pledge from leading chocolate manufacturers including Hershey to eliminate illegal child labor on cocoa farms in West Africa.
LAMPERS claims that Hershey lists the Ivory Coast and Ghana as ‘major sourcing countries’ in its 2011 corporate social responsibility report, but the chocolate firm has declined to disclose information on suppliers.
Eisenhofer stated: "Hershey's own report essentially admits that many children continue to work on these cocoa farms. And yet the company turns a blind eye on studies showing that an estimated two million children work illegally for long hours, improperly supervised, with dangerous tools on these farms.”
"That Hershey buys most of its cocoa products from other suppliers doesn't change the obligation it undertook in 2001 to certify that its products weren't made by slave labor. The argument that Hershey's records cannot be made available because the company doesn't directly purchase beans from West African farms is absurd.”
Nestle & Mondelēz: Cocoa sourcing
Hershey rival Nestlé recently allowed a probe by the Fair Labor Association (FLA) that found multiple child labor violations on cocoa farms in West Africa supplying Nestlé factories. See HERE .
Nestlé has stepped up its sustainable cocoa program under the Nestlé Cocoa plan, but it has yet to commit to sourcing 100% certified cocoa to a deadline like Hershey, Mars and Ferrero.
Kraft Foods' global snacks spin-off Mondelēz International is another major chocolate manufacturer yet to set a date to source 100% certified cocoa. See HERE .