By Judy Gearhart and Adeline Zensius
Last week, The Hershey Company announced that it will be sourcing their entire line of Bliss and Dagoba chocolates with Rainforest Alliance cocoa beans, indicating that they are taking an initial step towards accountability.
What is most inspiring about our “Raise the Bar, Hershey!” campaign is the response from North American kids campaigning on behalf of West African kids. Young activists from across the U.S. and Canada have donated money, started online petitions, attended protests, written letters, and hosted screenings of the documentary “The Dark Side of Chocolate”.
Getting Hershey’s to take this initial step towards accountability is an important victory for the “Raise the Bar, Hershey!” campaign. However, if Hershey’s meets only the goals set out for this year it will barely catch up to its competitors in accountability commitments and it will still be significantly behind on monitoring child labor in its cocoa supply.
Our message to all our cocoa advocates right now – young and old – is: “Thank You and Let’s Keep Pushing!” In fact, this week Jasper Perry-Anderson an eighth grade student from Hershey’s home state of Pennsylvania launched an online petition at Change.org demanding Hershey’s do more to help cocoa kids in West Africa. Click here to sign the petition.
It is important to recognize Hershey’s first step, but our goal is to have Hershey’s be a leader in child-labor-free chocolate instead of just barely keeping pace with its competitors. This is a company that has built its reputation on caring for children and communities – and we will continue to push Hershey’s to be a leader in caring for West African cocoa kids too!
While we support Hershey’s move toward accountability, its partnership with Rainforest Alliance also presents several concerns:
Cocoa Yields: Hershey’s argues that by increasing farmers’ ability to produce more cocoa, they will decrease child labor. Rainforest Alliance has a similar emphasis on improving farming techniques and sustainability, believing that social benefits, such as decreased child labor, will follow. In the past, Cocoa companies have tried to increase farmer incomes by increasing yields, but experience suggests that yield increases have benefitted corporations but have done little to raise farmer incomes or end child labor. In reality, the promotion of higher yields of export crops has “often led to overproduction that then triggered a price collapse in international markets. For instance, the very success of Ghana’s program to expand cocoa production triggered a 48% drop in the international price of cocoa between 1986 and 1989.” (Bello, Walden, “Destroying African Agriculture.” Foreign Policy in Focus, June 3, 2009. Available online: www.fpif.org). Given reported potential shortages in the global cocoa supply, Hershey’s focus on yields appears to be less than altruistic.
Living Wage: Rainforest Alliance standards require that employers pay workers’ wages equal to or greater than the regional average or legally established minimum wage, but this standard does not mean that workers or farmers will receive a living wage. In terms of small scale family farmers, like in West Africa’s cocoa sector, the price paid to farmers for their cocoa beans plays an important role in the ability of farmers to implement higher labor and environmental standards and improve their communities. When cocoa farmers sell their beans on the conventional market, they routinely receive payment below the world market price which traps farmers in a cycle of poverty. If farmers are ensured a fair living price for their beans, they can institute better labor standards and provide food, health care, education and other necessary services for their families.
Labeling Requirements: A coffee product that uses the Rainforest Alliance label, must only contain a minimum of 30% certified content, meaning that a majority of the product does not need to be Rainforest Alliance certified or child labor free. Other certification programs require 100% of the content to be officially certified in order to achieve the program’s label. This provides a stronger assurance to consumers that the products they are buying are ethically sourced and child labor free.
We’re glad Hershey’s has moved beyond charity programs and accepted that they must use the economic leverage of their cocoa buying power responsibly. We will continue to push Hershey’s and the cocoa industry to stop exploiting cocoa farmers, workers and kids for profit. We will also continue to push Hershey’s to adopt Fairtrade standards, which are part of a system, which has traditionally placed greater emphasis than the Rainforest Alliance system on improving farmers’ income and helping rescue child laborers.
The fight to stop global companies from exploiting poor African farming families and children is one that will continue across generations. We are barely at a point now where chocolate companies are accepting accountability for their supply chains. They are asking themselves: “How much more do we need to pay to keep the kids out of our cocoa fields?” Unfortunately, few if any are asking themselves the right questions, such as, “How can we empower African farmers to demand a better price?” and, “How can we ensure workers throughout our supply chain are treated fairly?”