Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hershey and Child Labor

Via Jim's Chocolate Mission I've learned that there was recently a protest against Hershey regarding their usage of child labor in Africa. It was cited that they made a vow about a decade ago to cease such a practice, and yet to this day still continue it.

Chocolate, believe it or not, is quite wrapped up in politics, and I'm certainly concerned about a company's practices when I contemplate regularly consuming their products. I still have a lot to learn as to what the current issues are and where companies stand, but I've heard that some companies even indirectly fund slavery in the cacao plantations they purchase beans from, though I haven't heard any names accused or conclusive evidence. But as far as things go in this article, I think things are far too sketchy on whether it's proper to condemn Hershey or not. It notes specifically that they're condemning child labor, not slavery, so it is of great question as to how we should evaluate that practice.

Most essentially, what is the economic context of the workers? If things are so poor there and everyone badly off, then voluntary child labor would actually be a good thing, because otherwise the alternative would be an even poorer people and perhaps starvation. If that's the case, then even such an unpleasant practice becomes desirable by the overall good it does to the workers. On the other hand, if it's superfluous and unnecessary, then I'd consider it an irrational practice that isn't worthy of supporting, but at the same time isn't worthy of condemnation given its voluntary nature. In either case, if it's true that slavery isn't involved here, then I think protestors are making a mountain out of a molehill.

I suspect that it's the case that poverty drives these people to employ children, because otherwise a more prosperous society would have enough wealth to allow these children to stay home and pursue other activities, such as schooling. How good of workers could they possibly be anyhow in comparison to grown men? It's likely out of economical necessity that they find themselves in this position.

As such, I see no reason to abstain from consuming any of Hershey's products. I see no sufficient evidence that they're actually guilty of an immoral practice, and will not condemn them as such.

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