Hershey hit with nasty child labour suit

Pennsylvania-based Hershey Co., the largest producer of chocolate in North America, has been hit with a lawsuit that has the makings of a public-relations nightmare.

Hershey’s candy bars are displayed at a gas station in Phoenix, Arizona. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

Yesterday, on Nov. 1 — conspicuously one day after Halloween — the Louisiana Municipal Police Employees’ Retirement System (LAMPERS), a pension fund and Hershey shareholder, filed suit against the company, alleging that it uses cocoa produced as a result of unlawful child and forced labour in Ghana and the Ivory Coast.

LAMPERS, represented by the law firm Grant & Eisenhofer, wants the court to force Hershey to open its corporate records for shareholder inspection. LAMPERS maintains that the company’s board has long known about its use of “tainted cocoa,” but has continued to use ingredients from West Africa.

The lawsuit could mark the beginning of a shareholder revolt against the Hershey board. At the very least, it puts a black mark on Hershey’s corporate image.

“That one of the world’s leading confectioners ─ whose primary market is children ─ could exploit child laborers to meet its bottom line is an outrage,” said Grant & Eisenhofer co-managing director Jay Eisenhofer, who is counsel to LAMPERS. “Rather than open its records to scrutiny, Hershey over the past decade has thrown up multiple roadblocks to reasonable examination of its conduct regarding serious questions about illegal child slave labor and trafficking in its supply chain.”

Eisenhofer added, “Speaking as a father whose children just returned from trick-or-treating with a cornucopia of candy, much of it made by Hershey, it’s a shock to the conscience that Hershey would be less than forthcoming about the use of illegal child labor in bringing its products to market. Shareholders believe such conduct is not what Milton Hershey and his wife, who were well-known for philanthropy for disadvantaged children, would envision for the company.”

Read the full press release here.

-David Dias

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