HERSHEY, PA, August 24, 2011—Just hours after four federal government agencies launched investigations into the exploitation of J-1 student workers in the Hershey’s packing plant—including a surprise inspection of the plant Tuesday by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—Hershey’s directed its subcontractors to offer the students paid vacations.
Early morning Tuesday, OSHA began a surprise inspection of the Hershey’s packing plant in Palmyra, which it continued all day Tuesday and was set to resume Wednesday morning. OSHA also confirmed Tuesday that it had opened a Whistleblower Protection Program investigation into the case.
The Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division launched its own investigation into the exploitation of J-1 student workers at the Hershey’s plant, and the U.S. State Department scheduled interviews with the students for Thursday, August 25, as part of its own investigation.
Hours after learning of the four investigations, Hershey’s abandoned its claims that it bore no responsibility for the exploitation of J-1 students at its packing plant, and directed its subcontractors to offer the students paid vacations.
Hershey’s offer to the students comes one day before State Department officials were scheduled to interview students about the months of exploitation at the Hershey’s plant that the students spoke out to end.
“For five full days after the students exposed the exploitation at the Hershey’s packing plant and stood up for American workers, Hershey’s played dumb and passed the buck,” said Saket Soni, executive director of the National Guestworker Alliance, which helped the students organize. “Then Hershey’s learned of four federal investigations into the exploitation of J-1 students at its plant, and within hours, it was offering the students paid vacations.”
“There’s nothing wrong with paid vacations, but a paid vacation won’t cover up the truth: Hershey’s knew, condoned, and benefited from the year-round exploitation of J-1 student workers at its packing plant for years,” Soni said.
“Pennsylvanians know that Hershey’s has pursued a deliberate strategy of outsourcing, downsizing, and subcontracting for the cheapest, most exploitable workers for decades,” Soni said. “Hershey’s has left Pennsylvania workers locked out of living wage jobs, and has left students on a cultural exchange program locked in their plant as captive laborers. That’s Hershey’s record of brutal corporate greed, and no eleventh-hour offer can cover it up.”
CONTACT: NGA Communications Director Stephen Boykewich