Last year we launched our first enterprise human rights policy. It was our opportunity to formalize our strong belief in equity, equality and non-discrimination, our commitment to treating all individuals with respect and dignity, and recognition of the need to use our influence and business relationships to promote fundamental human rights throughout our value chain. These beliefs have perhaps never been more important than this past year with a global pandemic that continues to impact greater numbers of people and a clear need to accelerate efforts that address issues of systemic racism and social injustice.
We often hear the saying that challenges and obstacles bring out people’s true colors. Some rise to the occasion while others respond with finger pointing or backtracking on past promises and commitments. Companies, like people, are similarly tested in challenging environments, and I am proud to say that Hershey has not only maintained our commitment to human rights but we have also expanded our efforts to address new groups of vulnerable people including our own employees.
2020 Focus Areas
First and foremost, in 2020 we continued to deliver against our human rights policy and the focus areas we prioritized for the year. We expanded our efforts to address child labor in cocoa, holistically integrated human rights into our supply chain due diligence efforts, and created new policies and programs focused on responsible recruitment to prevent risks of forced labor. We also spent significant time training our employees on human rights and our salient issues. Delivering these goals often required flexibility in the current environment such as exploring the use of virtual assessments or phasing our engagement based on COVID-19 prevalence rates. However, we maintained focus on our commitments and worked hard to ensure we were meeting the expectations we set as a company.
Human Rights & Hershey’s Response to COVID-19
We also recognized the urgency to address human rights given the impact of the global pandemic, as COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting the most disadvantaged while creating new vulnerabilities for people who were less impacted prior.
As part of our ongoing human rights due diligence, we are constantly identifying and considering risks and applying the United Nations Guiding Principles (UNGP) guidance. Applying the UNGP lens to the pandemic highlighted the need for us to take action in new areas. For example, as an essential business, our own manufacturing workforce and field sales force quickly became front-line workers. We added PPE, enhanced health/safety protocols for manufacturing workers (and all workers), developed a COVID-19 resource site with wellbeing materials, and provided incentive and appreciation pay. As a major employer in Hershey, we also engaged in discussions on where community resources (such as PPE, food, childcare, etc.) would be needed, launched a mask-making production line to donate masks to local community organizations, and donated large shipments of Hershey products to hospitals and other first responders in each of the communities where we have offices or manufacturing facilities, and dozens of other communities nationwide.
Supporting our suppliers during the pandemic was also critical and Hershey stepped up by funding temporary wage incentives for a number of strategic co-manufacturers and copackers to help their employees manage through the challenges associated with COVID-19. We also contracted medical staff on our suppliers’ behalf, bought equipment for medical scanning and provided capital to allow for social distancing. Finally, recognizing our cocoa farmers are some of the most vulnerable people in our supply chain, we worked with our suppliers, CARE international and the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) to prevent the spread into rural communities by supporting awareness activities, hygiene kits and medical equipment to supplier staff and farmer groups, as well as the installation of clean water equipment.
Racism and Social Justice
Finally, at the center of our human rights policy is a belief in the principles of equity, equality and non-discrimination, and a commitment to treating all individuals with respect and dignity. Throughout 2020, an uptick in racial discrimination and hate crimes in the United States and around the world sparked a movement that both united and divided the country and people across the globe. At Hershey, we have a long-standing commitment to inclusion, togetherness and equality and believe systemic racism is at its core a human rights issue.
We recognize that we continue to have a role to play in the fight for equity and addressing racial inequality. We took important steps including providing training and support so that our employees are stronger supporters of the Black & Brown communities, are offering resources to help our people deal with the emotional impacts of racism, and have committed more than $1.5 million in financial support to a number of organizations such as the Equal Justice Initiative, NAACP ACT-SO, and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
The challenges of 2020 will not simply disappear on New Year’s Eve nor will our responsibility to continue operating a business that is responsible and ethical. We remain steadfast in our human rights commitments, and we look forward to accelerating our work and making even more progress next year. We recognize we have a lot more work and learning to do.