On January 30th, after years of being targeted by consumer activists like you, Hershey has finally made a move!
Two days ago, Hershey’s announced that it will make a commitment to purchasing Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa for all of its Bliss Chocolate products and it will invest $10 million dollars in education and its smart-phone CocoaLink project to teach West African farmers to be more efficient.
So what does this actually mean? Have we won an important first step or are we being duped?
Hersheys’ CocoaLink, funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is a project that aims to increase yields and productivity on small cocoa farms by introducing new plants, techniques and inputs to small farmers and provide them with real-time advice through a cell phone network. The idea is that by increasing yields, farmers will have more income and the need for child labor will decrease. But will this work, and how would you know for sure?
It’s not clear how increased yields would actually eliminate the worst forms of child labor but monitoring is a good first step. This is the first commitment that Hershey has made to using an independent, third – party certification system to ensure that its cocoa is grown sustainably, including the monitoring of forced and child labor.
This commitment is a welcome first step for Hershey to improve its supply chain accountability and shows that it is responsive to consumer pressure.
You did it!! Your petitions, actions, questions and demands were heard!
This announcement also demonstrates that The Hershey Company acknowledges the severity of the labor abuses that taint the West African cocoa sector, where Hershey’s sources the majority of its cocoa.
So why aren’t we happier?
Well, Global Exchange has been committed to Fair Trade since its beginning in this country, and we believe that Fair Trade certification is the best way to achieve the goal of supply chain transparency, a fair price for farmers, and the elimination of forced child labor in the production of our chocolate. There is a difference between Rain Forest Alliance Certification and something that is Fair Trade certified.
Fair Trade independent third-party certification addresses poverty, sustainability and empowerment of producers (and workers) in the world’s poorest countries through guaranteed minimum prices plus an additional social premium to be invested in community development.
Rainforest Alliance certification, also independent third-party, encompasses all aspects of sustainability as well, but does not offer guaranteed prices, relying instead on the farmers’ capacity to increase yields and efficiency and negotiate for themselves in the global marketplace.
Increasing yields and efficiency may be a way to increase income temporarily, but without price guarantees it only means more cocoa for Hershey’s. Relying on the market to set prices and farmers’ incomes means that when yields increase, prices will drop.
What will the efficiency and higher yields cost in terms of chemical inputs, strain on water resources and natural sustainability? Rainforest Alliance focuses on management rather than workers, on efficiency rather than justice. Hershey’s, you picked the wrong one!
Any model that is not truly sustainable, that chooses short-term gain for individual farmers over community development will not produce the conditions necessary to eliminate trafficking and forced child labor.
So is this a victory or not?
Yes, we should recognize this as a positive step forward but we can’t overstate it or we risk becoming too complacent and leaving the public confused.
We would like Hershey to continue taking more steps. Yes, we can celebrate. And then get back to work.
Director of Organizing