I cannot forget the first time I accompanied my father to do chores on the family-owned-and-operated dairy farm where I grew up in southeast Tennessee. That initial glimpse into the hard work of farming happened when I was about seven years old and predicted a routine that I would follow until I graduated from college: twice every day, our small herd of Jersey cows had to be milked, and during the academic year these chores bookended nearly every school day and the weekends. My two sisters, brother and mother were involved every bit as much as I.
A similar reality forms a big part of the lives of many children who grow up on family farms, regardless of where they are in the world. During a career that has included spending years living and working in Africa, I have seen firsthand the similarities and stark differences between smallholder farming across very different geographies. Unfortunately, smallholder farming in the rural developing world is often synonymous with lack of access to basic infrastructure and services, poverty, poor education, inadequate nutrition, and women’s inequality. In some cases, families have little choice but to rely on their children to help make ends meet. Taken together, these factors contribute to the presence of hazardous child labor in farming communities, including in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, where much of Hershey’s cocoa volumes originate.
My own background drives a passion for addressing these issues. Doing so is not only key to eliminating child labor from the global cocoa supply chain, but also important in supporting sustainable livelihoods for the farmers, families and communities growing the cocoa that is used in Hershey’s beloved products.
Within the pillars of our $500 million Cocoa For Good initiative, we’re especially proud of how the following efforts target the core issues at the root of the child labor problem.
Kids who suffer from food insecurity at home are more vulnerable to child labor. Our partnership with Project Peanut Butter is making ViVi – a highly fortified, peanut-based nutritional supplement made at Hershey-funded factories in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana – available to hundreds of schools in cocoa-growing communities. The product provides children up to 30 percent of their daily recommended vitamin intake.
The access to better nutrition ViVi provides is helping increase school enrollment by as much as 12 percent and attendance rates by as much as 36 percent. Keeping kids nourished, in school, and away from hazardous farming practices enhances the quality of their education just as much as their wellbeing.
Hershey’s is proud of the support that it provides to local producers of peanuts, currently offering them a secure market for about 100 tons of peanuts that are used annually to produce ViVi. We also source locally grown and locally processed cocoa (as a flavoring) and several other materials and ingredients for ViVi that have been produced in-country, adding to the economic impact of the project at the community level. We are optimistic that this impact will grow as the project evolves and expands.
We have also been focused on creating additional areas of economic opportunity in cocoa-growing communities as this is essential to minimizing instances of child labor. Families that earn more income from activities outside of farming can better afford adult labor and other resources. Helping women contribute to family incomes is especially important. Through our work in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, we know that when women have an income, they invest it into the education, well-being, and health of their children and other family members.
That’s why Hershey’s invests in women-centric Village Savings & Loan Associations and provides job training and support for alternative means of generating income, such as soap making, escargot production, spice and vegetable farming, and cassava processing. Women engaging in these programs have reported income increases of as much as 51 percent.
The programs, which are also available to men, complement the many ways we help farming families earn more out of their cocoa growing efforts. By providing business and skills training and assistance with farm redevelopment or technical resourcing, we can support the higher income generation that can reduce the need for child labor.
Another area where we are focusing our efforts is on building relationships with farming families because this is key to overcoming some of the problems that result in child labor. Through our suppliers, we use a highly coordinated Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation System (CLMRS) to ensure our teams and partners on the ground know the families that produce Hershey’s cocoa volume. Hershey is committed to expanding our CLMRS so that it reaches 100% of our cocoa sourcing volume by 2025.
Locally identified and trained CLMRS agents visit farming families and profile their situations through interviews and surveys and continue to build relationships and maintain data as part of a long-term approach to monitoring. Because they are chosen locally, these agents have a deep understanding of the risks and circumstances in farmers’ homes and the ability to identify cases and craft appropriate interventions and responses. Those responses vary but making sure children can participate in school by helping them enroll, obtain school supplies, or procure birth certificates to ensure their eligibility are some of the interventions supported by Hershey.
As a company, Hershey has long taken pride in using innovative solutions to address age-old problems, including those related to children’s well-being, a passion of our founder Milton S. Hershey. Eliminating child labor, which can keep young people out of school and at work, sometimes in harsh or dangerous circumstances, is a huge priority for us and our private and public sector partners. Together, our collective efforts are helping families improve incomes and better understand appropriate tasks for children who are growing up on smallholder farms, providing support to keep children in school, and offering them a safer today and a brighter tomorrow – which helps us keep 100 percent goodness at the core of all of our products.