A look at Hershey’s renewed (global) product commitment

In February, I blogged about Hershey’s commitment to work on certifying more of their bars and making real efforts to improve the lives of cocoa farmers in West Africa.

A few days ago, the candy conglomerate once again broadcast their continued commitment to addressing (what they now admit to knowing) important issues surrounding the sourcing of their cocoa. Now when I read the announcement that the company has pledged to source 100% certified cocoa for its global product lines by 2020, and help eliminate child labor in their cocoa purchasing countries in West Africa, I was both incredulous, and impressed.

Could this really be? Is it green-wash? If not, how is this possible to achieve in 8 years?

I dug around a bit. I re-read the announcements and noted the words “global product line” in there. I think this makes the pledge more feasible, if what is being addressed is responsible sourcing to improve their popularity abroad. This does not mean I fault the company for not doing more. It’s a step, a good step, an important step.

And it once again proves to me the power of the consumer and this handy item called a scorecard (used to score companies in the same industry to measure their transparency and ethics). Specifically the Australian “Just Act” campaign’s scorecard to very recently call Hershey out on doing the least out of all chocolate companies to address issues of child slavery and labor in a region that produces 70% of the world’s cocoa. Couple that with Whole Foods’ also recent move to remove a Hershey product from their shelf…et voila, you have a new commitment from them.

If you just read that and thought, huh? Whole Foods carried Hershey? I never saw Hershey candy bars in the stores…well, you’d be right. What Whole Foods did remove was Scharffen Berger (a well known artisan chocolate bar…that is not so well known for being owned by The Hershey Company). Check out the link above to learn more.

I don’t want to remain cynical, but I have to dig deeper when a huge announcement like this comes about. Some questions were raised for me.

The company is committing to certifying its global product lines by 2020. This includes the Dagoba line (already RA certified), and Bliss (that they announced in February would be certified this year), and that only leaves…Scharffen Berger.

I’ve tried Scharffen Berger bars. The dark chocolate cocoa nibs one is pretty darn good. My friend Lynne was brought over to the dark (chocolate) side after biting into a well crafted Scharffen Berger bar. These bars have rich, deep, flavor. The cacao from these bars was, I can with some certainty deduce, NOT sourced from the Ivory Coast (who I believe grow just Forastero varietals). I’m almost positive the ones I’ve tried are from Latin American soil. So to wrap up my very long point, I checked their beautiful site, and saw said country missing from their sourcing list.

My point in digging into this is that it appears that the country with the most issues surrounding cocoa sourcing is not where any of the Hershy global product line chocolates get the cocoa for their bars from….

Hmmm. This begs the question: Isn’t there then a high likelihood that their bars sourced from Ghana (the only West African country listed on the site) may already be slave free and therefore not as difficult to certify (for that category)? And is this going to mean concerted efforts to work directly with more farmers in the Ivory Coast to impact their practices? As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, it’s not a black and white issue, and Hershey, as powerful as it is, cannot be expected to single-handedly solve the government disincentives that make the slave labor issue so prevalent. So, I really do hope and believe their investments in public-private partnerships will slowly, bring about life-altering change, and emulate Milton Hershey’s dream of promoting education, and social and environmental justice. I for one may dig into a SB bar in 2020 to mark this achievement of certification, sustainability and responsibility.

I believe change is underway, because of consumer pressure. So we must keep on. The global market raised their voice to move Hershey to raise their bar. And that tells me non-American consumer demand for more ethical chocolate seems to be higher. What about the majority of products, of which are sold in the U.S.? I know customers here care too, so here’s a suggestion…take a look at the company’s site and see if your favorite candy or product is on there. Now ask where those ingredients came from.

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4 Comments

  1. Jeff said,

    October 9, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Just to be clear … Hershey’s commitment to 100% certified cocoa by 2020 is ALL chocolate brands and products that the company makes around the world. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars, Hershey’s Kisses, Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. Everything. Everywhere. Worldwide.

    • October 9, 2012 at 4:46 pm

      Hi Jeff,

      Many thanks for visiting my blog and clarifying this error on my part. This is truly monumental and amazing news then, and I would love some more information. Could you please provide details on how much cocoa for Hershey products is currently sourced from the Ivory Coast? Also, what percent is sold globally (on average) versus locally, per year?

      It is my understanding that beginning this process of working with thousands of farmers and the government there to ensure certified products will take a very long time. If this is to be done by 2020, might it result in a loss of jobs for farmers who don’t meet the standards fast enough, and shorten supply that may lose Hershey business? I’m very interested to know how the 2020 deadline will be reached and applaud efforts for this to be achieved.

      Am I correct in my assumption that to certify all of Hershey’s cocoa, you will have to use multiple certification agencies (and not just Rainforest Alliance)? Will the public be able to access all the chosen certifiers and their criteria?

      I will gladly post a follow up entry about the details of Hershey’s roadmap and sustainability criteria with information you provide.

      • Jeff said,

        October 10, 2012 at 5:47 am

        Thank you recognizing that this is significant news.

        The Hershey Company does not tolerate child labor in cocoa producing regions, and we are working with public and private partners to eliminate this issue. Our 2020 certified cocoa commitment puts Hershey’s cocoa sustainability efforts at the forefront of global chocolate companies.

        As you indicated, our 2020 commitment is a huge undertaking that will impact our entire global supply chain over several years. In addition to sourcing certified cocoa for our Bliss, Dagoba and Scharffen Berger brands, our global sourcing team is working on the fastest path to ramping up our certified cocoa volume for all chocolate products between now and 2020 to meet our 100% commitment. There is a lot of work ahead. Because of the volume requirements of our extensive global product lines, our sourcing team is now talking with numerous qualified certifiers to ensure we reach our 100 percent certification commitment by 2020. Today, less than 5% of the world’s cocoa volume is certified. We would expect to work with numerous recognized certifiers to achieve our volume requirements and reach 100 percent certification. We believe that our commitment to certified cocoa will help drive increased volume of certified cocoa globally.

        We source cocoa from many countries around the world, including countries in Central and South America and Asia. We do not break out volumes by country; however, West Africa, including Ivory Coast, are large cocoa-producing countries and key sources for The Hershey Company.

        We are pursing our commitment to certified cocoa while also accelerating our on-the-ground programs to help farmers improve their livelihoods and earn more money for their families. We, along with industry partners, are investing in extensive farmer modernization in West Africa and elsewhere. We know that farmers can often double their cocoa production with a few basic advanced agricultural methods. We are also supporting the use of mobile phone technology and other low cost outreach techniques to accelerate farm modernization. These farmer and community education programs work in parallel with the transition to certified cocoa to ensure that farmers on the ground will see their lives and their communities improve over the next eight years and beyond.

  2. November 27, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for all the information above. I look forward to following Hershey’s efforts on this certification and community livelihood campaign.


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