Just one day after Halloween—one of the biggest days for candy consumption—The Hershey Co. is facing a lawsuit alleging it could knowingly have violated and benefited from child-trafficking laws.
Yesterday, the Louisiana Municipal Police Employees’ Retirement System, a Hershey shareholder, sued the country’s leading chocolate maker, demanding it uncover documents that reveal its knowledge of allegedly working with cocoa suppliers in Ghana and the Ivory Coast that use child labor.
“By producing chocolate at its Pennsylvania factory that is the product of child and forced labor in West Africa, Hershey has flouted domestic and foreign law and placed at risk its century old brand and reputation,” said the complaint, which the shareholder filed in the Delaware Chancery Court. If the court orders Hershey to turn over the documents, the shareholder could look for evidence that would support a lawsuit against the company and its directors.
In a statement, Hershey said that it has “been involved in on-the-ground programs, working with public and private partners, to help eliminate inappropriate labor practices in cocoa communities.” The company says it is committed to ensuring that by 2020 all of its cocoa will come from suppliers meeting international labor standards.
Thomson Reuters reports that a 2011 Tulane University study found that 1.8 million children in Ghana and the Ivory Coast work in the cocoa industry, and the majority of them are unpaid.
Such findings have prompted concern over Hershey’s and other chocolate companies’ business practices. Last month, Whole Foods Market opted to pull Scharffen Berger, Hershey’s artisan chocolate brand, from its shelves after pressure from activists.
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