National Consumers League

Easter Candy: How to buy worker-friendly sweets?


7-gallery-easter_candy-peepsWith Easter nearly upon us, consumers will be purchasing a lot of candy over the next several days. In recent years, the chocolate industry has been rocked by a child labor scandal, when it became known that 80 percent of chocolate derives from the West African nations of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, where large numbers of children help harvest cocoa--the main ingredient of chocolate--under conditions that are extremely dangerous and difficult. 

In many cases, they use razor-sharp machetes and work without pay under circumstances that some advocates have likened to slavery. How can consumers buy responsible candy—candy free from slavery and abusive child labor? First, we recommend you check this chocolate scorecard developed by the group Green America in 2010. The groups that have been given an “A” grade are making a substantial effort to eliminate child labor and ensure that workers and farmers are fairly treated.

We know “Divine” chocolate the best; they work with farmers cooperatives to reduce child labor and help farmers earn better prices. The scorecard also explains various consumer certification programs like Fair Trade that try to ensure decent livelihoods for farmers and take steps to protect against child labor, although many child labor advocates recognize that monitoring efforts may not successfully ensure products are child-labor free.

In addition to purchasing chocolate that is child-labor free, NCL also advises consumers to purchase union-made products because we believe collective bargaining helps guarantee fair wages and decent benefits for workers. Check out this list of union-made candy, complied by Union Plus. The list represents the products produced by members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM); the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW); and the fruit and nuts from members of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW).

Included on the list, which Green America compiled in 2010, are Hershey and Nestle – two companies that produce union made candy but have received poor grades on the chocolate scorecard. Hershey’s products (excluding “Hershey’s Bliss”) have been given an “F” grade in large part because of its extremely slow, lackluster response to child labor allegations. More recently, the company announced a certification scheme to ensure their products are child-labor free by the year 2020, but it doesn’t seem to be making any progress in enacting that scheme. Hershey currently is also facing a shareholder lawsuit over its refusal to release documents about the presence of child labor in its supply chain.

Additionally, a few years ago, Hershey’s used a contractor that was accused of trafficking foreign students, essentially tricking them into signing up for a cultural exchange program and then forcing them to work in a factory. In 2009, a 29-year-old worker drowned in a vat of chocolate in a New Jersey factory that supplied chocolate to Hershey, raising questions about the company’s willingness to risk worker safety in its pursuit of low product cost.

You’ll note that Nestle, another major manufacturer of chocolate, received a “D” grade. The company was long criticized for its slow response to child labor allegations. In 2011, after it received the poor grade, Nestle took a step forward by hiring the Fair Labor Association (FLA), an independent third party monitoring group that is helping it identify supply chain problems. University of San Francisco Professor Beth Hoffman, a Forbes contributor, has recently accused the chocolate industry of undercutting prices to farmers and farm workers.Prices for cocoa stand at less than half of what they were in 1980, her piece notes. She adds that in the 1970s, “fifty percent of the cost of a chocolate bar went to pay for cocoa, today that is less than 6 percent.”

For more information about the list of union-made candy, please visit Union Plus and if you’d like a mobile version of the Union Plus list sent to your phone, please text CANDY to 22555.