Responsively Yours: Traditions in Chocolate and Justice

Responsively Yours: Traditions in Chocolate and Justice
Not so sweet treat: As an industry, cocoa production is rife with forced labor, human trafficking and abusive child labor.

For many of us, chocolate, cookies and other treats are staples of the Christmas season. It’s nice to have a reason to look up familiar recipes and try new ones. It’s part of our heritage and tradition! It may not be all that healthy for us, but in moderation and balanced by regular exercise, surely it’s OK, right?

Actually, what’s not quite OK is what happens along the supply chain of one of the key ingredients: cocoa. As an industry, cocoa production is rife with forced labor, human trafficking and abusive child labor. Some of us learned about this at a workshop at Assembly, and some of us have learned about it as we plan the 2012 Northeast Jurisdiction United Methodist Women meeting in Hershey, Pa.

Several groups have initiated a “Raise the Bar” campaign to urge Hershey’s to require higher labor standards in the production of cocoa that it uses in its products, which are America’s favorite and account for 42.7 percent of the U.S. market. Hershey’s has been aware of the labor abuse in its supply chain since 2001.

We’ve had several opportunities to urge Hershey’s to institute fair trade policies all along its supply chain. I’m pleased to tell you that we got a call from Hershey’s vice president of investor relations, and that he visited Women’s Division Assistant General Secretary Sung-ok Lee during a trip to New York City in September to explain Hershey’s policies. He indicated that Hershey’s had several projects to reinvest in communities where its suppliers operated, but he did not seem to have any systemic change initiatives to report regarding labor practices in its supply chain. Instead, the Hershey’s position seems to be: those are not our employees, so there is nothing we can do.

Hershey’s is very proud of the legacy of Milton S. Hershey and the company town he built in the southeast Pennsylvania farmland a century ago. The company’s website says, “Unlike other ‘company towns,’ Hershey’s was not intended to exploit its resident workers.” We are calling on Hershey’s and other confectionary companies to respond in the enlightened tradition of Milton Hershey and eliminate child workers from their supply chains and to commit to change their practices accordingly.

Another tradition from Hershey’s history is to offer low-priced mass-produced chocolate, opening a former luxury product to more general consumption. The company must not let this outweigh its enlightened tradition of caring for workers, including children from around the world.

Sweeten this holiday by sending a message by way of a letter, postcard or e-mail to Hershey’s to let the company know you care about exploitation of workers, whether they are in Hershey’s direct employ or in its supply chain. Also look for fair trade products in your area or through mail order or online outlets.

Let’s share “goodwill to all people on earth” by what we say and do. That’s part of our tradition!

Merry Christmas!

Harriett Jane Olson
General Secretary
United Methodist Women

Posted or updated: 11/30/2011 11:00:00 PM
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