It took the threat of an embarrassing Super Bowl ad, but Hershey is finally starting to act like it gives a damn about forced child labor being a major ingredient in its cocoa.
The company recently announced it would start buying only Rainforest Alliance-certified cocoa for its Bliss Chocolate products starting later this year. The Rainforest Alliance is a reputable nonprofit whose certification system will help ensure that the cocoa is grown sustainably, which includes the monitoring of forced and child labor.
Coincidentally, Hershey's change of heart (after a decade of foot dragging) came a week after Raise the Bar campaign partner the International Labor Rights Forum announced its intention to broadcast a JumboTron ad critical of Hershey's cocoa supply chain outside the Indianapolis stadium where the Super Bowl took place.
But hey, sometimes it takes a stick rather than a carrot. I just hope the company quickly moves to certify the cocoa for its regular bars, not to mention its other brands, like Reese's, KitKat, and Almond Joy.
In other positive Hershey news, GreenBiz.com reports that the chocolate maker has achieved zero waste at four of its Pennsylvania facilities. However, I'd be more impressed if they weren't incinerating the 10 percent of their waste that is organic. Why not go for industrial composting?
I rarely buy Hershey's chocolate, as I prefer the really dark stuff (which Hershey's doesn't make). But a bigger-picture reason to not give the storied American brand your money is that it sources much of its cocoa from Ivory Coast, where forced child labor is rampant in that industry. Hershey's, which commands 42.5 percent of the U.S. chocolate market, isn't doing a very good job, compared with its competitors (such as Cadbury/Kraft, Mars, and Nestle), of tracing cocoa purchasing and implementing labor rights standards in its supply chain. In fact, it's doing next to nothing.
Which is why it's the target of the "Raise the Bar, Hershey!" campaign, sponsored by nonprofits Green America, Global Exchange, and the International Labor Rights Forum. I've always been a sucker for culture jamming, so I was pleased to see that a central part of the campaign was a "brand-jamming" contest.
The winners were announced a couple days ago. I rather like Jason Pearson's winning entries in the "overall brand jam" (video below) and print ad (above) categories. Enjoy! And if you'd like to send Hershey's a message yourself, you can do so here (via Change.org).
Not that anyone's about to curl up in an armchair and read this thing cover to cover, but pages 37 through 44 of the U.S. Department of Labor's recently issued report on child labor and forced labor could make for some interesting browsing. That's the product-by-product list of which countries use which of the two types of labor.
Change.org (which pointed me to the report) highlights some of the worst offenders here, and notes the need for more analysis. To whit, what specific companies source problematic goods and sell them in the U.S.?
In another rendition of “Look how much farther ahead of us the U.K. is,” Tesco, the world’s third-largest retailer, will no longer sell items containing cotton from Uzbekistan. The reason? Forced child labor. According to this article from the Environmental Justice Foundation, tens of thousands of Uzbek children are withdrawn from
school to pick the cotton that funds President Karimov’s government.
Tesco is also starting to track the carbon footprint of 30 of its private-label products, using a draft standard developed by the Carbon Trust, in an effort to provide labels that will better inform consumers about the CO2 outputs of different items.
I’m not saying you should run out and buy a pair of sneakers to celebrate—after all, labor abuses are still rampant in sportswear manufacturing, as various Oxfam reports and analyses relate (check out these links to learn more). But it’s a far cry from the days when these companies refused to reveal their factory locations because of competitiveness concerns. (Of course, that’s still the case with many businesses, including über-greeny online store Gaiam.)
Any move toward greater corporate transparency concerning supply chains deserves kudos, in my book.
In a recent post, I mentioned a green-minded shopper butting heads with Macy’s over being given an unwanted plastic bag. Now comes an interesting paradigm reversal: I never thought I’d see the day when the Middle Kingdom out-greened the U.S., but China just banned plastic shopping bags. (Although, to be fair, I must mention that San Francisco recently beat it on that front with its own ban.) Starting in June, the production of totes less than 0.025 mm thick will be illegal in China. What do you say to that, Macy’s? (And when are you going to respond to my email?)
It’s great to hear about the plastic-bag prohibition, but my smile fades when I read stories like this one from the New York Times, which reminds us that worker abuse in China is still common, despite the fact that many businesses are starting to get a clue about CSR (corporate social responsibility) and take such issues seriously. Indeed, a number of big companies now hire auditors to inspect their supplying factories.
I’ve discussed problems in the social auditing industry before, and they reappear in this article: factories being warned about audits beforehand, managers bribing inspectors, etc. I’d like to think that China’s new labor law, which just went into effect at the beginning of the month, will help, but I have my doubts (though I applaud it as a first step). In a country where corruption is so rampant, the enforcement of laws is so fickle, and independent unions remain prohibited, it’s hard to be overly optimistic about labor.
San Francisco Bay Area readers: Want to make a statement against Mars Corporation’s unethically sourced cocoa and have fun at the same time? Conceptual artist April Banks is seeking models of varying ages, races, and physical characteristics so she can shoot portraits of them spitting up M&Ms. (Actual vomiting not necessary.)
If you’re interested and free on Nov. 10 or 11, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Choose a two-hour time slot between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., and indicate your race, gender, and approximate age. Saturday’s shoot takes place in Oakland; Sunday’s is in San Francisco. Wear a white T-shirt.
Pumpkins are sprouting up on front steps, and synthetic spiderwebs are spreading throughout windows and doorways in my neighborhood. In a week, trick-or-treaters will blanket the area to collect all manner of sugary confections. But just as Halloween has a dark side (from its origins in warding off evil spirits to such present-day irritants as oversexualized kids’ costumes), so do all those sweets.
Top candy manufacturers such as Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestlé—the makers of most of the treats that will fill those bags on All Hallow’s Eve—have long been criticized for sourcing their cocoa from West African producers with unsavory labor practices. Chocolate isn’t the only culprit, of course; social and environmental injustices can lurk behind other ingredients and in other parts of the supply chain as well.
Then there’s the health aspect of the annual feeding frenzy; the statistics on childhood obesity today are nothing if not worrying.
In response, some forward-thinking people and organizations have come up with a couple of interesting twists on Halloween. Corey Colwell-Lipson, a mother who was inspired by the households in her Seattle-area neighborhood that gave out non-candy items last year, founded Green Halloween, an initiative that encourages parents hand out healthier edibles (like organic juice boxes) and keepsakes instead of confections. It also advocates for focusing more on costumes and the social aspects of the holiday than the caloric ones. (Thanks to Lonnie for turning me on to this one.)
Meanwhile, Global Exchange is publicizing reverse trick-or-treating, in which costumed kids give fair-trade sweets and informational postcards to the households they’re supposedly hitting up. I tend to share World Changing’s skepticism of just how fun this would actually be for the little tykes, but hey, it’s worth a try.
In any case, I like the fact that so many people are “thinking outside of the candy box” (to quote Green Halloween) this year. Hmm, Mr. Wallet Mouth and I have a bunch of leftover blinky dice we had made as gifts to hand out at Burning Man; perhaps those would make good treats (not for compulsive swallowers, though). At the very least, we’ll have to scare up some fair-trade chocolate. Mmmm!
I’d heard of blood diamonds before, but I’d never given much thought to the ethics of the wider jewelry industry
until the other day, when a friend told me about a local shop that’s working to further the cause of nonexploitative jewelry.
Lori Bonn Design, in Oakland, Calif., has spearheaded an effort to develop an industry-wide standard for ethically made jewelry called Clear Conscience. It’s a multiyear process involving lots of meetings at industry conferences, Lori Bonn co-owner Bill Gallagher told me, and it sounds like it may be a couple of years before anything final is hammered out. But it’s something to look forward to. “Consumers want to know that they didn’t harm the environment or people with this pretty thing they’re wearing,” Gallagher said.
What does that harm look like, and how does it take place? One biggie is the extraction of the metals used in jewelry. You can read all about the horrors of acid leaching, air pollution, and the exploitation of indigenous peoples associated with mining on the No Dirty Gold campaign’s website. Another good source of information is Ethical Metalsmiths, which works to stimulate demand for responsibly sourced materials.
Then there are the gemstones. The Kimberly Process was designed to address concerns about blood diamonds, but it doesn’t cover other gems. “We buy from apparently honest, ethical people, but there’s a whole progression of things before the stones get to the dealers that we don’t know about, and until there’s a standard, there’s no independent way to know,” Gallagher said. He added that “there are beginning to be sources of gemstones whose path can be verified,” such as Columbia Gem House, which Lori Bonn is starting to use as a source for its offerings.
Finally, there are the working conditions of the actual jewelry makers to consider. Lori Bonn has its designs executed by facilities in Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, and Thailand. Gallagher said that when checking out possible factories to work with, “we go there to see what it looks like and smells like, and we follow our gut. We know that our workers generally can afford an above-average standard of living, and their kids are in school.”
An argument can be made that having any jewelry made outside of the first world is necessarily exploitative. Gallagher counters that it’s not so simple. “If you just
source from developed countries, you’re taking away the livelihood
potential from poor countries that are deeply dependent on this work,” he said. Furthermore, he added, “there’s a level of craft,
detail, and workmanship that’s not available on any kind of scale in
the U.S. It’s inherent in other cultures, and I think it should be
One thing is clear: momentum for responsible jewelry is building. Twenty-six companies, including Tiffany & Co. and Wal-Mart, have signed on to No Dirty Gold’s Golden Rules protocol. The Fair Trade Jewelry blog hums with news. And last year saw the creation of the Madison Dialogue, an initiative for businesses and interested parties to encourage verified sources of responsible metals and gems. Next month the Madison Dialogue will hold the Ethical Jewelry Summit in Washington, D.C. Perhaps the Clear Conscience program will gain some traction there.
It’s only a matter of time before ethical jewelry hits the mainstream. Already, retailers like Brilliant Earth are responding to demand for conflict-free diamonds and renewed metals. That’s great, but I look forward to the day when consumers can depend on a recognizable label or logo to assure us that, whether it’s a diamond engagement ring or a pair of casual earrings that we’re after, we can have a clear conscience about buying it.
Concerns about sweatshops and ethical-labor practices have
been on the contemporary public radar ever since the early to mid-1990s, when
the Kathi Lee Gifford child-labor fiasco and other scandals erupted in the
I’ve been learning as much as I can about these issues
recently, and I was excited to discover the existence of auditing organizations
such as the Institute for Marketecology, Social Accountability
and Verité that conduct independent inspections of
factories and other types of production facilities to ascertain whether certain
codes of conduct are being met. If the facility passes muster, it gets a
certified stamp of approval.
What a great idea: a way for consumers to ensure that
they’re not subsidizing exploitative business practices, and for responsible corporations
to put their money where their mouths are. I’ve even started pestering
companies to encourage them to take part in such certification programs.
So imagine my dismay when I came across this Business Week article about Chinese factories that deceive auditors in order to be certified. It’s well worth reading in its
entirety, but the gist is that nowadays it’s commonplace for factories in China to maintain extra sets of books containing falsified records, and to distribute
scripts for workers to recite if they are questioned by inspectors. Not only that, but “a new breed of Chinese consultant has
sprung up to assist companies … in evading audits,” the article states.
Pretty depressing, huh? But not entirely surprising.
still digesting the contents of this article, but a few thoughts come to mind.
One is that, as much as I sometimes enjoy heaping scorn on big business and
calling large companies “evil,” it’s not always as black-and-white as that. After
all, big players such as Disney, Nike, and Wal-Mart regularly use auditing
organizations, and the large-scale pressure these companies provide has
undoubtedly helped check some of the worst abuses. The system is certainly
imperfect, but at least these institutions are in place; that’s the first step
to meaningful reform.
Another thought is just how much, for me, China represents so many of the complexities, contradictions, and shortcomings of the
global economy. I’ll no doubt be thinking about that tonight when I see Manufactured Landscapes, a new
documentary about Edward Burtynsky, whose awe-inspiring photographs capture
just how massive industry in China is.
December 2010 I haven't actually bought anything from Po-Zu yet, but I appreciate their awareness of the fact that many vegan shoes are made of petroleum products and aren't necessarily better for the environment than leather footwear. Po-Zu seems to set a high bar for itself when it comes to ingredients and supply chains.
March 2010 After running out of dish soap, I started using our good old bars of Sappo Hill out of necessity. But you know what? Our dishes are just as clean, and when I pick up the soap at our grocery store, the only packaging on the bars is the price tag. And did I mention the soap is awesome? We love the oatmeal bar.
February 2010 TMI alert: If you're a squeamish guy, read no further. I'm done with tampons! Instead, I'm using the DivaCup.
January 2010 Mr. Wallet Mouth and I both love Pact. Its underwear is made of organic cotton, and the company donates 10% of its sales to worthy environmental causes. Not only that, but the company is serious about eco-friendly packaging. Each pair of undies comes not in a plastic bag but in a little cloth pouch made from fabric remnants. I'm also impressed with how responsive Pact is over email; when I asked a packaging question, I got a nice reply from the CEO.
December 2009 After reading about Skoy Cloths, the biodegradable paper-towel alternative, on Fake Plastic Fish, I bought a bunch for stocking stuffers and my own kitchen, and I'm now a fan. They're lasting a long time, despite repeated washings in the laundry, and they arrive with minimal packaging.
October 2009 I was already of fan of Straus yogurt (see June 2007), but now I love it even more. According to Michael Straus, a son of the company's founder, Straus yogurt "is made, cooled, and set in stainless-steel vats, unlike most yogurts, which are poured while still hot into plastic cups to cool and set." As someone who's concerned about plastics and chemical safety, I'm happy to hear that!
July 2009 I'm using a lot more baking soda now that I'm making more of an effort to clean the house in a nontoxic way. But from now on I'll be buying Bob's Red Mill, since Arm & Hammer engages in animal testing.
July 2008 Started feeling extra-good about buying one of my fave meat substitutes, Tofurky, after learning that its maker, Turtle Island Foods, is an independent, family-owned company (Unlike Boca Foods, which is a subsidiary of Kraft, and Morningstar, which is owned by Kellogg).
April 2008 I'm going to start buying my canned beans from Eden Foods, for two reasons: it uses custom-made cans that don't contain bisphenol A, and it's an independent, family-operated company.
February 2008 From now on, whenever I order takeout or ask for a doggy bag, I’ll make sure to avoid #6 polystyrene containers (and, of course, Styrofoam).