When several members of the Northeastern Jurisdiction of United Methodist Women (UMW) learned that their quadrennial meeting was to be held in Hershey, PA, at the Hershey Lodge no less, they realized they had a moment to engage with one of the world’s largest chocolate companies about an issue that was very important to them: forced child labor.
Sabrina White, leader of the Northeast UMW Jurisdiction and Ann Price, the social justice coordinator, wasted no time in reaching out to the Raise the Bar, Hershey Campaign to learn up on the issue and understand how Hershey could make changes to prevent child labor abuses in its supply chain.
The UMW also launched a postcard action, targeting Hershey executives to improve company policies on child labor. When these postcards started trickling into Hershey mailboxes, the company started to pay attention. Afterall, The national United Methodist Women is the largest denominational faith organization for women in the country with approximately 800,000 members. The group is strongly committed to advocating for justice.
Hershey agreed to meet with roughly 50 members of UMW on June 13th, one day after World Day Against Child Labor. UMW invited Green America and the Internatioanl Labor Rights Forum to join the meeting, however, upon arrival, we were told the meeting with Hershey would be a closed meeting, open only to members of UMW. Hershey was likely scared we would ask them tough questions. For example, What is the actual reach and impact of the initiatives you have launched in Ghana in improving farmer livlihoods? Or, When will Hershey commit to sourcing independently certified child-labor-free cocoa for all of its products, as some of its competitors have pledged to do?
The UMW were well prepared for the meeting. They recognized that Hershey’s initial steps towards sustainability and philanthropy are laudable and welcome, but that the $6billion company could do far more to help farming communities and to prevent abusive child labor in the Ivory Coast and Ghana.
After the meeting, the women held a devotional service in honor of children around the world who are forced to work in abusive and dangerous working conditions against their will, often in place of going to school.
“The mind of a child is a terrible thing to waste,” shared Liz Stemley, a member of the UMW Baltimore Washington Conference in her closing prayer. “Let our children not be lost to child labor.”
The actions of the UMW show how the work of a few committed individuals, with collective economic power, really can change the world, and turn the head of a multibillion dollar corporation.