The Hershey Company was started in 1894 by Milton Hershey as the Hershey Chocolate Company. Milton Hershey started the company in his hometown of Deer Church, Pennsylvania, which eventually changed its name to Hershey, Pennsylvania due to the success and popularity of Hershey’s candy products. The company started as a small chocolate manufacturer which existed only to make chocolate for use in caramel candies, since Milton Hershey’s first company had been one that made caramel candies. Shortly after the Hershey Company began making chocolate, it started to sell excess chocolate to local candy stores and its chocolate quickly caught on. Soon after, Hershey realized that he could make a business out of chocolate by itself, and began to move away from making caramel candies and invest himself fully in making chocolate. In his first few years making chocolate, Hershey invented several new processes which allowed chocolate to be produced with more consistent quality despite variations in ingredients. Using these manufacturing advancements, Hershey quickly grew throughout the early 1900’s and by 1927 Hershey had decided to take his company public and made an initial public stock offering. The company has since continued to grow and today is the largest manufacturer of chocolate in North America.
From the beginning, Milton Hershey kept the needs of the communities where his company was located in mind. When he started developing his chocolate factory in Hershey, Pennsylvania, he not only built a chocolate factory but also built housing for his workers and donated some of the company’s profits to community development efforts. He also founded the Hershey Industrial School in 1909, which later was renamed to the Milton Hershey School in 1951. In 1918, Milton Hershey transferred the majority of his assets to the Milton Hershey Trust, which he had started to run his school which at the time was still called the Hershey Industrial School. The Milton Hershey Trust at that point had a controlling share of the Hershey Company. As part of Hershey’s efforts to create nice communities around his factories where workers could live in comfort in well maintained communities, Hershey started Hershey Park in 1907. The park was designed as a place where workers could go to relax and enjoy their time off from the factory. It quickly became an attraction for the town of Hershey and brought people in from the local area who wanted to enjoy the activities the park offered. Around the same time, World War I had broken out in Europe so many European sugar suppliers which Hershey had relied on for sugar for its products were unable to meet the demand Hershey placed on them for sugar. In response, Hershey looked initially to Cuba as a new source of sugar. The company bought up land in Cuba and started farming sugar cane, but Hershey continued following his values of treating the local community respectfully. He built housing for his workers and created communities around the sugar refineries the company had built. Hershey also built several schools in Cuba where orphaned children could get an education. As the company continued to grow, Milton Hershey never gave up on his philanthropy efforts, and his tradition of giving back to local communities was maintained by the company even after his death in 1945. In 1963, the company offered $50 million to Penn State to build a medical school and affiliated teaching hospital in Hershey. The hospital was built starting in 1966 and the medical school took its first class starting in 1867.
Despite its charitable founder and the continued philanthropic efforts of the company, the Hershey Company has not been free from scrutiny. The chocolate industry as a whole came under attack in the past fifteen years for the source of cocoa used in making chocolate. The vast majority of cocoa is grown in South America and Africa, with almost 60% of worldwide cocoa production coming from the Ivory Coast and Ghana alone. The distribution of worldwide cocoa production by country can be seen in figure 1. About fifteen years ago, activists began to claim that cocoa farmers were exploiting children in order to lower labor costs on their plantations. Activists slowly gained momentum for their movement against chocolate manufacturers, including the Hershey Company, that bough cocoa from areas where children were often made to work on plantations. The movement focused on the exploitation of child labor in Africa, particularly in the Ivory Coast, but also attacked chocolate manufacturers for exploitation of child labor on plantations in South America. For several years, the movement was not able to gain enough support to be able to persuade chocolate manufacturers and the Hershey Company in particular to change their practices.
In 2010, a team of journalists made a documentary, “The Dark Side of Chocolate,” directed by Miki Mistrati and U. Roberto Romano. In the documentary, the filmmakers travel first to a chocolate convention in Germany, where they question many industry executives about their use of child labor for the production of cocoa. The people questioned avoid the issue as much as possible, and do their best to keep their companies as far removed as possible from the cocoa farmers. The filmmakers then travel to Africa, where they follow a group of child traffickers from Mali to the Ivory Coast. The traffickers have a network set up where they take children from small villages in Mali, transport them to larger villages in Mali from where they are taken by bus to the Mali border with the Ivory Coast. Traffickers then sneak the children across the border into the Ivory Coast, and then move them through the Ivory Coast to the plantations where they will work for very small wages growing cocoa. In the documentary, the makers speak to a man who openly admits to trafficking children, and says that he is paid by the plantation owners to bring them child laborers. Despite the making of this documentary and the already ongoing movement by many to end the use of child labor by chocolate manufacturers, the industry continued to look the other way and ignore the issue.
The Hershey Company continued to ignore the media attack about its use of child labor in its cocoa sources until the beginning of 2012. At the beginning of the year, the International Labor Rights Forum contacted the Hershey Company and threatened to put an ad on a billboard just outside the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, where the 2012 Super Bowl would be played. This time, someone had gotten through to the company. In response to this threat, the company pledged that by the end of 2012 all cocoa used in the making of the company’s Bliss line of chocolates would be sourced from farms certified by the Rainforest Alliance, which certifies farms that are environmentally friendly, have fair labor practices in place and follow them and are considered economically sustainable. The Hershey Company also pledged to invest $10 million in West Africa in initiatives to reduce the use of child labor in the area and improve education for children living in that area. While the Bliss line of chocolates only makes up a small fraction of the total chocolate production of the Hershey Company, the International Labor Rights Forum was satisfied with the company’s response, or at least enough so to not put up the ad they had threatened.
But is the use of child labor by the Hershey Company and other chocolate manufacturers really so ethically problematic? From a utilitarian ethical perspective, it would seem that the use of child labor is not really all that unethical. According to the utilitarian principle of ethics as laid in the Utilitarianism reading by Snoeyenbos from the beginning of the semester, utilitarianism states that the most ethically correct decision is the one which results in the greatest overall benefit when all affected parties are considered. In this case, all parties but the child laborers themselves clearly benefit from the use of child labor in cocoa production since it makes chocolate cheaper at every step of the supply chain. According to the documentary “The Dark Side of Chocolate,” the children who work on cocoa farms are often sent to work on the farms by their parents. The traffickers who take the children from their hometowns are sometimes kidnapping them, but often they are transporting children who were sent to work on cocoa farms by their families anyway. The working conditions on the farms are not great, but the children are at least paid something for their work and are given a reasonable place to live, which is often more than they had at home before going to work on the cocoa farms. The children are often able to return to their families after working on the cocoa farms, and bring back money for their families. While the labor conditions on these farms are not the best and children are sometimes taken unwillingly from their families to work on cocoa farms, overall the cocoa farms can be beneficial to them since many children are able to bring something for their families, and have a decent place to live while working. As a result, a utilitarian would argue that the use of child labor on cocoa farms is not such a bad thing to do and in fact may be the ethically right thing to do given the situation.
Child labor complaints are not the only issue the Hershey Company has faced. In the summer of 2011, the company came under attack by a group of foreign students who were working for the company in the town of Hershey. The students were from various countries outside the United States, and had come to America as part of a program that allows the students to spend a summer in America working and traveling around and experiencing American culture and practicing English. In August, after the students had already been working for the company for most of the summer, about 200 of the students became tired of the low pay and lack of time off they received from the Hershey Company, and organized a strike with help from the AFL-CIO. The students had been hired by a separate staffing company, which was hired by a warehouse management company which Hershey had hired to operate its warehouses. Since Hershey was several steps removed from actually hiring and dealing with the students, the company tried to claim that they should not be held responsible for the working conditions and the resulting strike. The Hershey Company ultimately instructed the warehouse management company to give the students one week of paid vacation time in return. Hershey did this quietly and then continued to act as though the issue had never happened and that they had no part in the incident. The incident sparked an investigation by the United States Department of State into the situation and how the Visa program which allowed the students to be in the country could be modified to prevent future foreign students from being exploited as cheap labor by other companies.
Figure 1 Distribution of Worldwide Cocoa Production by Country