United Methodist Women call on the Hershey Company
BY ANN PRICE
BWC UNITED METHODIST WOMEN
Having selected Hershey, Pa., as the site of the 2012 United Methodist Women (UMW) Northeastern Jurisdiction Quadrennial meeting, the UMW seized the mission opportunity to engage in dialogue with the Hershey Company. On June 13, several members of the BWC UMW joined other members of the UMW in a meeting with Hershey officials to talk about fair trade certification and child labor issues in West Africa.
The women met with Andy McCormack, Hershey's Vice President for Public Affairs. Sabrina White, BWC member and President of the Northeastern Jurisdiction United Methodist Women, presented to McCormack 2,035 signed postcards submitted during the past year by women from across the country. The postcard message to Hershey was, "Adopt fair trade certification standards for all of Hershey's chocolate products, and move aggressively to forward and sign contracts with your current suppliers detailing fair trade transition plans."
The group was undaunted when the meeting was turned over to former Ghanaian Ambassador to the United States, Koby Koomson, who spoke at length on the "wonderful childhood experiences" of children in Ghana, where "public education is mandated." With a series of follow-on questions, they expressed their concerns about child labor and child labor trafficking on small West African cocoa farms, and Hershey's failure to adopt fair trade certification standards for all of its cocoa sourcing (supply) activities.
Two UMW partners, Liz O'Connell (Green America) and Sean Rudolf (International Labor Rights Forum), accompanied the UMW to the Hershey mission event. Even though the Hershey Company meeting was closed to them, they led the group in a lively, follow-on debriefing session. Discussions included Hershey's responses to UMW questions, clarification of child labor issues, and the impacts of fair trade certification.
Several United Methodist Women from the Baltimore-Washington Conference offered prayers during a devotional service to commemorate "World Day Against Child Labor," celebrated internationally on June 12. Global child labor issues and UMW’s advocacy work in the child labor and labor trafficking arenas were key topics during the service.
Hershey has recently instituted a certification process for obtaining cocoa supplies for two of its chocolate product lines, which may represent about 1 percent of its annual sales and cocoa purchases. Hershey also announced it is instituting other programs to support farmers in West Africa where Hershey obtains most of its supply of cocoa. The United Methodist Women told Hershey that these initial "baby steps" are certainly welcomed and applauded.
Through its delivery of the 2,035 signed "Fair Trade Certification, Hershey, Get With It!" postcards, questions, and comments, the United Methodist Women left Hershey (the largest United States manufacturer of chocolate products) with an important message: Hershey, a multibillion dollar sales company, can do much more to help cocoa farmers eradicate and prevent child labor in West Africa.