Forty-one consumer-owned grocer cooperatives and natural food retailers operating 62 stores released an open letter today calling on The Hershey Company to take action to end child slave labor on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast (Cote D'Ivoire). The retailers are asking Hershey to fully commit to ethically sourced cocoa produced under fair labor standards.
The letter, unveiled at Patriot News Online and the Raise the Bar, Hershey! campaign site also says that the consumer cooperatives are concerned about carrying the Hershey brands, Dagoba and Scharffenberger, until Hershey demonstrates a clear commitment to being a leader in the movement to end child slave labor on West African cocoa farms.
The letter follows a July report by the Fair Labor Association that found child labor still is rampant on Ivorian cocoa farms. About 35 percent of the world's chocolate is grown on small farms in the Ivory Coast. To maximize production, farmers often enlist children as laborers. The U.S. State Department estimates more than 109,000 children work in the cocoa industry under the "worst forms of child labor" and that 10,000 or more are victims of human trafficking and enslavement.
Trudy Bialic, director of public affairs, PCC Natural Markets said: "PCC chooses to sell products that are socially just and environmentally sustainable. It's the right thing to do and our customers count on us to be responsible gatekeepers." PCC Natural Markets, a consumer-owned retailer with nearly 47,000 active members, believes profiteering at the expense of children is not an acceptable practice.
Hershey's failure to commit to purchase significant portions of ethically sourced cocoa contrasts with the proactive commitments demonstrated by major competitors. Mars and Ferrero, for instance, have committed to ensure 100 percent of their cocoa supply is ethically sourced by 2020. Nestle is working with the Fair Labor Association to examine its supply chain for child labor. Kraft/Cadbury also has taken steps to certify one-quarter of its Cadbury Dairy Milk bars sold globally as Fairtrade.
Quincy Natural Foods Co-op, another signer, is committed to supporting, purchasing, and selling fairly traded, ethically produced and environmentally sustainable products for its community. Lucinda Berdon, general manager, Quincy Natural Foods Co-op said: "Companies that profit at the expense of people or children and their communities, or the environment, will not be given any consideration in being included in our product line."
Hershey has promised to invest $10 million by 2017 in West African cocoa programs, but that breaks out to $2 million per year -- a small sum relative to the $10.6 million that Hershey's CEO, John Bilbrey, was paid in 2011 and the $6.1 billion in profits the company posted during the same period.
In comparison, Barry Callebaut, a major cocoa processor and trader, launched a $41 million cocoa initiative in March 2012 to boost farm productivity and improve family livelihoods in key cocoa producing countries. Blommer Chocolate Company, the largest cocoa processor in North America, recently announced plans to invest $45 million in cocoa sustainability efforts by 2020. In 2009, Nestle announced it would invest $110 million over a 10 year period to boost sustainability initiatives and address child labor in cocoa.
In addition to the current list of signatories, eight human rights, consumer, and trade union groups -- including Global Exchange, Green America, the International Labor Rights Forum, Organic Consumers Association, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, National Guestworker Alliance, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and United Food and Commercial Workers -- have called on Whole Foods, UNFI and 22 other natural food retailers and distributors to sign the letter.