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Is Hershey’s Going Fair Trade? Did We Really Win? Not yet……

1st February, 2012 - Posted by Kirsten Moller - 29 Comments

Cocoa tree ripe with pods

On January 30th, after years of being targeted by organized consumer Fair Trade actions including creative holiday kid’s actions, brand jamming contests, protests and rallies at flag ship Hershey store and shareholder meetings, Hershey has finally made a move!

The Raise the Bar Hershey’s campaign which has been calling on Hershey to go Fair Trade, collected over 100,000 petition signatures through and other sources, and organized petition deliveries, shareholder resolutions, and Facebook actions to blanket Hershey’s wall with messages.

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?

*The following sentence was updated on 3/27/2012 for clarification.

Original sentence: 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.

Updated sentence: According to World Cocoa Foundation Communications Manager Marisa Yoneyama, “CocoaLink is possible through a public-private partnership between The Hershey Company, the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) and The Ghana Cocoa Board.” In early 2009, the World Cocoa Foundation announced a new, $40 million program funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and 14 chocolate industry companies to significantly improve the livelihoods of approximately 200,000 cocoa farmers in Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria.

The (cell phone network) 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?

Since passage of the Harkin-Engel Protocol over 10 years ago, Global Exchange’s Fair Trade program, along with the Raise the Bar Hershey’s Coalition, has been calling for a code of conduct for suppliers that would ban child labor and put measures in place to enforce such codes. Following Harkin-Engel, the whole chocolate industry committed to ending child labor, forced labor, and trafficking in their cocoa supply chains. A decade later, hundreds of thousands of children continue to labor in hazardous conditions in West Africa, particularly in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, and the US Department of Labor has noted five West African nations whose cocoa may still be tainted by forced and/or child labor.

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. According to Rainforest Alliance’s own website:

Fairtrade labelling standards are designed to tackle poverty and empower producers in the world’s poorest countries, giving them a guaranteed price for their products. Rather than emphasizing how products are traded, Rainforest Alliance certification…focuses on how farms are managed.

Cocoa (or cacao) pods, where chocolate comes from

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.

Hershey’s has taken a step forward by:

  • Responding to consumer pressure and Fair Trade activism: WE have convinced the largest chocolate company in the U.S to change the way it does business!
  • Acknowledging the problem.
  • Agreeing to third party verification.

We would like Hershey to continue taking more steps. Yes, we can celebrate. And then get back to work.


29 Responses to “Is Hershey’s Going Fair Trade? Did We Really Win? Not yet……”

  • I won’t be touching any Hersheys any time soon. As if slavery in the fields wasn’t enough, they have been getting exchange students to work at starvation wages–maybe not out and out slavery–but still a callous and calculated, deceptive and threat-laced exploitation.

    See the full New York Times story at

    Company Banned in Effort to Protect Foreign Students From Exploitation
    Published: February 1, 2012

    This article discusses abuses which led to a walk-out of hundreds of student guest workers at a Hershey’s PA plant last August. The state department has finally banned Cetusa, the company that recruited the exchange-student-workers.

    The abuses the State Department cited for banning the company according to the article “echoed the complaints of the foreign students at the plant in Palmyra, Pa., who found themselves forced to work grueling night shifts lifting heavy boxes of Hershey’s candies for take-home pay so low they sometimes went hungry.”

    Don’t eat anything Hershey tries to sell you.
    Their cocoa ain’t got no XOXO.

    • Thanks Elizabeth for the comment and article. You can also find info about this in a past Fair Trade Roundup here:

    • Tommy

      Thanks again for writing such a great article. We have been talking about globalization and how it effects free trade and fair trade. The subject of Hershey’s and how it is not a fairly traded company. I think that is a great step towards doing the right thing and recognizing that there are people out there that do care how our food and other things are being manufactured. Also who is making it, how they are being treated and how they are being compensated. I believe that it is important that if we Americans believe in our labor laws that protect us, that we should also uphold the standard in which we do business. This article shows us that we still have a voice and large corporations listen. Its empowering, so thank you for that.

  • Jill Doyle

    The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation does not fund the CocoaLink program in any way. It is funded entirely by Hershey. You should have your facts straight if you want to be credible and taken seriously.

    • Hi Jill, Thanks for reading this blog so carefully.

      I got this information from the Business Civic Leadership Center of the US Chamber of Commerce:

      They wrote:
      “These programs are based on long-term partnerships with organizations that include USAID, USDA, USDOL, Cote d’Ivoire Cocoa Committee, numerous local and global NGOs, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In addition, the Hershey supported CocoaLink mobile phone program is projected to reach 250,000 West African farmers during this period.”

    • Veronica

      Actually its pretty clear from many sources that the project is funded at least in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, :
      “The CocoaLink program, which is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will earmark US$10 million dollars over the next five years for:
      “… a first-of-its kind farmer outreach program that uses mobile voice and SMS text messages to connect cocoa farmers with important information about improving farming practices, farm safety, child labor, health, crop disease prevention, post-harvest production and crop marketing.”
      Additional efforts will be made to establis”
      check it out

  • V. Belt

    Re: “Rainforest Alliance focuses on management rather than workers, on efficiency rather than justice. Hershey’s, you picked the wrong one!”

    I’m wondering what fair trade label you support now that Fair Trade USA has split from FLO – you can see what the Fair World Project had to say about Fair Trade USA’s most recent revised draft of its Multiple Ingredients Standards:

  • Since cocoa is primarily grown in small batches (ie not in a plantation) the standards are really the same for FLO and Fair Trade USA so I’d support either one. For me the social premium and the guaranteed price are what will end child labor in the Cocoa industry.

  • My issue was that I believe(d) Hershey uses GM sugar beets to sweeten their products. They claim they do not.

  • aerrow flynn

    i believe that it is not hershey that should be fought, but the plantations that are hurting the kids. it is hershey’s right to uses whatever methods are available to them, that is why america is capitalist.also not buying their chocolate is not going to do anything; you are only depriving yourself of something. your loss will not end their suffering.

    • Hi Aerrow Flynn, Thanks for commenting. I think that Hersheys with the its size and brand can have a significant impact on the industry especially if consumers are willing to pay the price for fairness (and surveys show that we are) When price is the only factor involved in evaluating a product there will always be a race to the bottom. That’s why Fair trade consumers are saying they want chocolate that is fair to the farmers and workers, that is good for the planet and that tastes good. Hershey’s can do it.

  • m.a.

    cocoa link is not funded by Gates. Different projects. RA cert will also cover some Dagoba per their announcement. So much cacao is RA and they take in new farmers so fast, real change is questionable as are the number of new farmers and percent small vs large that may be in this supply chain. No where does HSY state if they will engage with farmers direct or through suppliers. They do not buy cacao beans nor process them so they may work through the suppliers for this. A lot of money will remain with higher cost US partners and suppliers. More will be spent to promote this than to help farmers. Bliss and Dagoba are small brands. I do not see this as cause for thanks or cheers. Compared to what MARS is doing, HSY prices and revenue, and the scale of the isssue, this is negligible.

    • Thanks for you comment M.A. — I think it is clear that more pressure is required to make significant change. The Bliss Bar move is a small brand and I think they are doing it is a trial balloon. Will people notice? Will they care? It is unfortunate that Dagoba will end their long-term relationship with a Fair trade supplier. Even though Dagoba is a small company it was significant for the coop.
      I think we need to be clear that we want all our candy free from forced child labor. I’m glad you are paying attention!

      • M.A

        Did Hershey announce they will stop using Fairtrade cocoa, or cocoa from a current Fairtrade supplier? Many producers have multiple certifications so switching from FLO to RA does not necessarily mean switching producers.

        Also, re: your comment about equally supporting FLO and FairTradeUSA, the standards and verification processes for FairTradeUSA are TBD over the long term and TFUSA is taking many steps that deeply concern small producers (as you know), such as certifying estates, having no producer representatives on the board and getting producer input only after major changes (like accepting estates) are made. It’s our responsibility as consumers to dig into the source of certified products and purchase those that align with the highest values and benefits for producers – within and across certifications.

  • Charlie Hooper

    Im not convinced. In my opinion Hersheys is doing this purly to look better in public opinion. They are still looking our for their intrests wile putting a pretty PR bow on the package. Ill admit that its a step in the right direction, but a small step that they probably would’nt have made if they were not pushed. They recognize they half to respond because more and more people are learning about these cocoa feilds, so they are loosing petential profit. The fact that their primary objective will be focusing on increaseing local yields and efficiency instead of inspecting every single cocoa source they buy from, shows that they are not willing to sacrifice high profits. Unfortunatly, untel the WTO changes its policies and the ILO has more influence, Real fair trade is not as profitable… and that makes Hersheys uncomfortable.

    • Yes, trade policies are at the root of the unfairness. But as consumers we do have choices that can start to open up the dialogue about how we want workers and farmers to be treated.

  • Chris D

    Looks like Dagoba will be going *away from* Fair Trade Certification altogether. This was stated by consumer affairs after I emailed to ask if they would still offer the Conacado bar and other Fair Trade Certified products.


    Thank you for getting back to us about DAGOBA Conacado Chocolate Bar.

    DAGOBA Conacado Chocolate Bar will be sold until current inventory is exhausted and than be discontinued. We will not maintain any Fair Trade certifications.

    Have a sweet day,

    XX [name removed]
    Consumer Representative

    • Hey Chris, Thanks for checking this out and letting Hershey’s know that you care. There are a lot more Hershey’s products that could be Fair Trade.

  • Mackenzie

    While I do believe this is a positive result of a small grassroots campaign I agree with those who call this what it is- herseys trying to save their image before it becomes more well known what they’ve been doing. If more people were aware of the egregious and horribly unethical human, child, and slave labor practices of Hersey’s I think they’d be shocked something like this is still going on. In fact, the lack of attention this issue receives is just another example of big corporations power to influence our opinions of them in spite of the reality. I live in urban Seattle and I bet I could ask 10 people on the street about this and maybe 1 person would be aware of what’s going on. Hersey’s stating they’re working towards better practices and investing 10 million dollars is a drop in the bucket-although that is better than nothing it’s far from where it’s needs to be in 2012. And to the Bill and z
    Melinda Gates Foundation issue, “partnered” is not the same as funded.

  • Katie

    I didn’t realize there was a difference between Rainforest Alliance certified and Fair Trade certified. That’s good to know.
    Yet, even though Hershey is making more of an effort to be concerned with the ethics of their product, I can’t help but believe that Hershey is only doing this out of the need for customer appeasement. It’s all a façade. But, it is a start. I noticed that Hershey indicated it would start paying attention to the supply chain only of their Bliss chocolates. Does that make for even one less child subjected to slave labor? If that’s the case then at least it’s something. But I agree, Kirsten, we should celebrate and then go back to work.

  • Thanks everyone for the well-thought out questions and comments related to Kirsten’s post. It is interesting to read the various perspectives on this issue. Re: Cocoalink funding, I’ve seen a few different descriptions, including on Hershey releases, about the relationship between Gates Foundation and whether they are a funder or partner. Some seem to conflict with others. So get to the bottom of it, I have a call in to Cocoalink and once I hear back I will share that with you all. In the meantime, thanks again for all the feedback. Dialogue around these important issues is so important!

    • Nancy Rahon

      Just call Hershey or look at the World Cocoa Foundation site. The previous references cited here are 3rd parties that made assumptions, and should not be cited as sources for back up. WCF site says Gates Foundation is funding the Cocoa Livelihoods Project, which WCF and member companies including Hershey are also funding. Gates Foundation is not listed as a funder for CocoaLink. Hershey is. Do your homework if you want to be credible.

  • Received word back from a Cocoalink rep and the changes have been noted in the original post. Thanks all for your comments!

  • Nancy Rahon

    Correction: Marisa Yoneyama works for the World Cocoa Foundation, not CocoaLink. CocoaLink is a initiative, not an organization with reps, anyway. Please help this campaign earn/keep credibility, and keep the focus on the real issues versus minor details, by getting basic facts right. This blog should have generated good dialogue about Rainforest Alliance Certification’s merits and what activists can focus on from here. Unfortunately, many comments are focused on calling out/debating errors.

    • Nancy,
      Yes we are aware of what Cocoalink is. I contacted the World Cocoa Foundation in order to have a representative voice re: Cocoalink. That is what was meant by representative. Since Cocoalink is made possible through a partnership with World Cocoa Foundation (and others), it made sense to have Marisa represent. I added her title to further clarify.

      It does seem many comments to this post have focused on semantics and minor details rather focusing on the bigger issues involved here. But that is up to the people who take the time to comment. This is an open forum for all to chime in on, and we welcome all respectful comments and dialogue.

  • m. a.

    For those interested, here is information on CocoaLink from the World Cocoa Foundation site. Note it uses basic mobile phones (voice mail/text), not smart phones, which makes it much more accessible to farmers (who are more likely to have cell phones than smart phones). Note also that it’s being expanded to Ivory Coast, where Hershey estimates 50% of cocoa farmers have call phones (

    Also, the initial description of CocoaLink seems to blend aspects of Cocoa Link with the Cocoa Livelihoods Project (which IS co-funded by the Gates Foundation and Industry). The WCF has info on that program here:

    Program Dates: 2011-2013 (pilot phase)

    Core Program Partners:
    World Cocoa Foundation
    Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD)
    The Hershey Company

    CocoaLink leverages Ghana’s well-developed mobile phone infrastructure and successful WCF education and literacy programs in the country, using voice and SMS text messages to connect cocoa farmers with practical agricultural and social information that will help them increase their incomes and improve their livelihoods.

    This innovative program uses existing mobile technology to reach more than 8,000 Ghanaian cocoa farmers and community members in 15 pilot communities with the potential to reach more than 100,000 over the first three years. Each participating community will have local COCOBOD agriculture extension agents and on-the-ground trainers to help ensure program success.

    CocoaLink builds on the momentum of existing WCF programs including the ECHOES Alliance, the Sustainable Tree Crops Program and the Cocoa Livelihoods Program. The program leverages the Ghana Cocoa Board’s extensive knowledge, cocoa husbandry information and field farmer-extension personnel.

    Farmers and community leaders will receive, at no charge, voice and SMS text messages delivered in their native language or in English. The messages include information on improving farming practices, farm safety, child labor, health, crop disease prevention, post-harvest production and crop marketing. Farmers can also share their learnings and receive answers to specific cocoa-farming questions.

    Program Objectives:

    To contribute to the improved livelihoods of rural Ghanaian cocoa farmers through:
    Increased farmer yields and incomes
    Improved bean quality and value
    Enhanced knowledge of pest- and disease-fighting techniques
    Greater literacy and numeracy
    Improved social conditions in rural farm villages

  • I am reading about how genetically modified cocoa trees are being planted in West Africa. It is estimated that 70% of the world’s chocolate will be GMO. What does this mean for the people of West Africa? Does it mean that the people who farm those trees will never be able to be part of Fair Trade? Are manufacturers setting up this region to be further indebted to them and further locked into what ever price the big corporations want to pay? Are there any campaigns/efforts to address this that I can participate in?

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