By Adeline Lambert and Sean Rudolph
Hershey’s recent pledge to “source 100 percent certified cocoa for its global chocolate product lines by 2020” came as a surprise to many cocoa activists. For over a decade, child labor advocates’ calls for the giant chocolate maker to meaningfully address farmer poverty and child labor on cocoa farms in West Africa have fallen on deaf ears. Even when measured against the other titans of chocolate, Hershey’s efforts up to now have been deplorably inept and completely underfunded. For example, Hershey has yet to offer a credible explanation or any meaningful data on the impact of their much-publicized cocoa-link program, which is barraging West Africa (a region troubled by low literacy rates) with text messages meant to improve farmers’ livelihoods and put an end to the worst forms of child labor.
Although we are hopeful that Hershey’s pledge to pursue certification on a massive scale will turn the page on the company’s lost decade of broken promises and stall tactics, consumers and activists have reason to be skeptical.
In Hershey’s press release, J.P. Bilbrey, the company’s president and chief executive officer, affirmed the move was “consistent with Hershey’s values.” Yet in spite of the company’s public relations spin, the big announcement came only a week after Whole Foods Market removed Hershey’s Scharffen Berger brand from its stores as a result of the chocolate maker’s failure to demonstrate a meaningful commitment to sourcing ethical cocoa. Although Scharffen Berger chocolates represent a small piece of Hershey’s chocolate empire, it represents an important effort to tap into the growing demand for high end chocolates in the United States. It’s no surprise then that Hershey also announced that Scharffen Berger will source 100 percent certified cocoa by the end of 2013.
Given that Hershey’s pledge may be more of a knee jerk reaction to losing important sales than a strategic move to bring the company in line with its core values, how can consumers and activists judge the company’s certification pledge? The following criteria provide a starting point for evaluating the type of massive certification program Hershey is apparently going to undertake.