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.