The Louisiana Municipal Police Employees’ Retirement System (LAMPERS), a public pension fund filed suit against Hershey Company to inspect the company’s books and records, contending that the Pennsylvania-based confectioner uses cocoa produced as a result of unlawful child and forced labor in the West African countries of Ghana and the Ivory Coast. The court filing marks the beginning of what could be a major shareholder challenge to the business practices of Hershey, the largest chocolate producer in North America.
“That one of the world’s leading confectioners – whose primary market is children – could exploit child laborers to meet its bottom line is an outrage,” said Grant & Eisenhofer co-managing director Jay Eisenhofer, who is counsel to LAMPERS. “Rather than open its records to scrutiny, Hershey over the past decade has thrown up multiple roadblocks to reasonable examination of its conduct regarding serious questions about illegal child slave labor and trafficking in its supply chain.”
Mr. Eisenhofer added, “Speaking as a father whose children just returned from trick-or-treating with a cornucopia of candy, much of it made by Hershey, it’s a shock to the conscience that Hershey would be less than forthcoming about the use of illegal child labor in bringing its products to market. Shareholders believe such conduct is not what Milton Hershey and his wife, who were well-known for philanthropy for disadvantaged children, would envision for the company.”
In 2001, Hershey and other major cocoa producers signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol, a compact to eliminate illegal child labor in high cocoa producing countries in West Africa. However, numerous reports have revealed that its signatories have failed to comply with their obligations and that forced labor and illegal child labor remain prevalent within the industry.
Plaintiffs argue that the Harkin-Engel Protocol has done little to eliminate child labor law violations from the West African cocoa trade. Hershey and other signatories swore commitment to implementing industry-wide standards by 2005 that cocoa products would be produced without illegal child labor. However, the company now claims it will take until 2020 to honor its obligations, announcing earlier this month that it will require eight more years to make headway in solving the problems of child labor and human trafficking on West African cocoa farms. Says LAMPERS counsel Jay Eisenhofer, “The fact that Hershey cannot commit to using ‘certified’ cocoa until 2020, 19 years after signing the Harkin-Engel Protocol, is tantamount to an admission that it currently doesn’t use ‘certified’ cocoa, and is in violation of the law. We hope the court will grant our request to inspect books and records, so we can move to determine whether the board breached its fiduciary duties, and the extent to which the company is violating international child labor, forced labor and human trafficking laws and safeguards.”
Learn more at the All Africa article: West Africa: Hershey Shareholders Allege Company Uses Cocoa Produced Through Unlawful Child Labor in Africa.