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Ethics involves analyzing the code of behavior of individuals or a company or a business in a society when relating to others in the workplace and the environment (Angle, 2004). The application of ethics is vital in all aspects of life and most importantly in the business companies. Social responsibility refers to managerial commitment activities that progress the wellbeing of a society while at the same time putting into consideration the interests of a company (Certo, 1997). It involves giving back to the community. Social environmental factors of a company affect the perception and beliefs that communities, consumers and the people generally have towards a company. This paper will analyze the ethical issues facing The Hershey Company, based in North America. It manufactures chocolate and non-chocolate confectioneries, chocolate related groceries and is a lead producer in the chewing gum and mint products. The paper discusses the strategies taken by the stakeholders of the company in combating the arising ethical issues by taking part in responsible corporate social responsibility/obligation.
Every company has the involvement of various stakeholders in its operations. Individuals being affected or affecting the operations of a business or a company are its stakeholders. The stakeholders of the Hershey Company include its employees, suppliers, creditors, suppliers, customers, the board of directors, the community living adjacent to the company, the government, investors and its owners. Ethical issues may affect any of the stakeholders of a company. In the Hershey Company, the ethical issues mainly affect the employees and the suppliers. The company is currently facing child labor crises, which is an ethical issue in the business sector. The involvement of child labor in its cocoa fields is not only unethical but also unlawful. According to United Nations Convention article 1, a child is anyone who is under the age of 18. Child labor on the other hand refers to work activities that deny a child from enjoying their childhood, their dignity, and abilities, and is not appropriate to his/her physical and mental growth. The work activities are usually harmful to children in their physical, social, mental, and moral aspects. It also affects the schooling program of the child by denying them an opportunity to go to school by forcing them to terminate learning attendance or obliging them to attend school and at the same time carry out extraneous and difficult work (International Trade Union Confederation, 2008). The company is also facing work related issues. Workers who are foreign students in the Pennsylvania factory, whose main work is packaging, protested in August 2011 stating that they earned very little and upon prior deductions of their rent and fees, they had little money to spend on their visa and permits to travel back to their countries. The students also said that they were allocated night duties in which they were required to work extremely fast under pressure (Goodwin, 2011).
In relation to the issue of child labor, a campaign named 'Raise the bar campaign ' was launched against the Hershey company when it refused to completely disclose its sources of cocoa yet most of it is believed to come from west Africa, a territory that is highly afflicted by human trafficking and use of forced and child labor. The campaign aimed at awakening the company to join its competitors in ensuring that its chocolate products do not involve use of cocoa harvested through forced and child labor (Time to Raise the Bar, 2012).Hershey in responding to the demands of the campaign reviewed its corporate social obligations/ responsibility activities. Their corporate social responsibilities (CSR) currently focus on working with its stakeholders towards the improvement of its CSR strategy (Daniels, 2012). The company is now expanding and accelerating cocoa community programs in the West African region. It is taking part in support programs aimed at improving the farmers and family setups in the region where about 70% of the world's cocoa is grown. Hershey is helping to improve and sustain communities growing cocoa in West Africa by starting investments in the locality by working with agriculture experts, through community development, and building links with the government to foster positive change to the cocoa farmers and their families. These programs include enhancement of certified products, spreading out cocoa link into the Ivory Coast, starting a farm and family development center in Ghana known as 'Hershey Learn to Grow', and a contribution of ten million dollars as an obligation to eliminate the use of child labor and also boost the supply of cocoa in the west African region.
Recently, Hershey in conjunction with the Ghana Cocoa Board (GCC) and the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) launched yet another program. It uses mobile technology to enhance conveyance of important information regarding improvement of agricultural and social agendas to the cocoa farmers in Ghana and known as Coco link. It is a first time project by the company that focuses on reaching farmers by using mobile farmers and the short messaging services to convey important information to aid in advancing farming practices, farm safety, marketing of cocoa, health post-harvest production, eliminating child and forced labor, preventing crop diseases. Before the end of 2017, the company's partnerships both private and public intend to benefit over 750000 farmers in the African region and about two million people in that locality. The Hershey learn to grow program is aimed at providing information to farmers about the most suitable cocoa farming practices. It also aims at aiding farmers to advance their livelihoods by focusing on boosting crop yields up to twice in the current production rates. Fruition of the program is expected within the next four years starting in 2012 Additionally, customers from the United States will be in a position to buy Hershey's Bliss products which contain 100% cocoa which is obtained from rainforest alliance certified farms. The farms do not involve the use of forced and child labor in the cocoa farming activities. It is a first time project initiative by the company (Hershey's, 2012).
The Hershey Company has also drafted and implemented strategies aimed at improving its working conditions. It is working towards value provision to its employees and making the company's working environment suitable by ensuring safety, wellness, openness, and inclusion of the employee. Due to the workplace issue of the foreign students, the company's subcontractors, Excel, who were involved in hiring the students, paid a penalty of $283,000 for underpaying and violating their health and safety (Daniels, 2012). The company also has other programs aimed at improving the health and safety of its workers. For example, the chocolate town challenge designed and introduced to improve health, fitness, and wellness and promote friendly competition among its employees, retirees and other members of the Hershey and Pennsylvania community is in progress since 2008.This challenge takes place annually and includes a race, a run walk, physical fitness activities and a health fair. There is another challenge known as 'The Old Switcharoo', an employee wellness challenge geared towards changing their lifestyles. For example, the employees are involved in activities such as taking short walks, which is healthy as opposed to watching television, deemed as unhealthy when overdone. It is also involved in other global employee campaigns and programs, which include "waterworks' challenge that focuses in providing important advice and educative information to enlighten them on the importance of water in their bodies and the other sources of hydration. ' Spring into fitness' is another initiative aimed at looking into fitness of the employees during the spring and summer seasons. The "get fit on route 66 is another initiative that makes employees to enjoy and have fun as they track the amount of time they spend on the famous legendary highway(Hershey's, 2011).
Hershey in partnership with the department of labor in the United States, that offers support to the international labor organization (ILO), together with other seven industrial companies are participating in a program to eliminate use of child labor in west Africa. The companies are funding the ILO's initiative, which has the main goal as elimination of child labor in the West African cocoa growing localities such as Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire is the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC). They hope to get rid of the worst forms of child labor by 2016 as set by the ILO. Hershey and the peers in the industry formed a partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and invested in a 40 million dollars project whose organization and implementation is by the world Cocoa foundation. It is a five-year program seeking to further the lives of at least two hundred thousand cocoa farmers and their dependants. Its basis is in Cameroon, Liberia, Nigeria, Ghana, and Cote d'Ivoire countries in West Africa. The Hershey Company indicates that it is now involved in getting its cocoa supplies sustainably and ethically from recommended and acceptable sources. However, criticism arose against the company for avoiding to release information concerning its suppliers. Hershey declined to name them as its competitors do among them Mars, Kraft, Nestle and Others. Though there is information that it gets its cocoa from West Africa, specific sources do not exist. According to 'time to raise the bar report', 2012, Hershey has not put into place measures that ensure that it buys cocoa from suppliers who are not involved in child and forced labor. The report condemned the company since it does not embrace fair trade activities though it has above 40% market share in the United States. The report, accuses the company for creating a false impression by donating to various programs and initiatives yet its policies remain unchanged hence do not translate to enhancing ethical production of their cocoa (Daniels, 2012). This depicts that the Hershey Company is therefore not fully committed in proper implementation of its corporate social responsibility strategies since it should not only fund programs and initiatives in the West Africa but should also change its policies towards the betterment of the child labor issue. It should also publish reports to give information regarding the identity of their cocoa suppliers to draw more light on their efforts towards elimination of child labor in the West African localities.
The boards of directors of Hershey Company are the major players involved in the company's implementation of the corporate social responsibility/obligation strategies because they are in the top management of the company. It has developed appropriate programs in solving the employee-related issues. However, despite their authority to make major decisions concerning the CSR strategies, it has done little in modifying the policies governing the issue of cocoa sources and elimination of child labor in the West African countries. Child labor is a major ethical issue affecting the companies that rely on cocoa as a raw material. Funding of various programs is not enough to show their efforts in enhancing appropriate and responsible sourcing. It should go hand in hand with the change of the company's policies. The company is therefore partly socially responsible unlike most of its competitors who have shown a commendable participation in the CSR activities aimed at reducing child labor especially in responsible sourcing of cocoa.