The Hershey Co. sees the error of its way
By Patriot-News Editorial Board
The Hershey Co. made the right move regarding the student workers. It’s a shame, for the students and the company, that it took officials almost a week to do so.
When news first broke of the foreign student protests last Wednesday over working conditions at Hershey’s Central Distribution Center III, the company reverted to its traditional method of dealing with difficult news. It said little. It put out a bland news release indicating it expects all workers, including those of its vendors, to be treated fairly, but that all inquiries should be directed to Exel.
In other words, it pointed the finger at Exel, the logistics company that The Hershey Co. outsourced to run its packaging plant.
The web of outsourcing went deeper than that. Exel contracts with a third-party staffing vendor, SHS OnSite Solutions, for human resources, but SHS OnSite does only payroll. SHS OnSite, in turn, outsourced the actual finding of foreign student workers to the Council for Educational Travel, USA.
This scenario is not unusual. Many companies today outsource parts of their operations. But outsourcing doesn’t take the parent company out of the action entirely. When, for example, a person calls a company and speaks to an outsourced worker — whether in another state or overseas — they still consider it an interaction with the parent company. It’s the parent company’s brand on the line.
At the end of the day, these foreign students were putting Hershey’s candy in Hershey’s stamped boxes. They might have been hired by CETUSA and working for Exel, but they were doing it in the name of Hershey.
Management at The Hershey Co. legitimately might not have been aware of what was going on with its subcontractors, but when it learned of the protests and started receiving calls, it should have done more than point fingers elsewhere.
This is especially true given that other parts of the Hershey empire have a good track record with guest workers. Foreign students have been working at Hersheypark for more than a decade on the J-1 visa program, a visa designed to promote work and travel. The Hershey Co. knows what a well-run outsourced guest worker program looks like.
After the situation escalated locally and nationally, including with a State Department investigation, The Hershey Co. finally tried to make things right. The company is encouraging subcontractors to give students their last week off to travel, and it is setting up sessions for the students to learn more about Milton Hershey and The Hershey Co.
These are all positive steps that deliver on the advertising — and J-1 visa stipulations — these students bought into that they would gain a cultural experience this summer.
It’s arguable that The Hershey Co. should have asked for plans on how these stipulations were going to be met before the students were hired. At the least, it should have stepped in immediately when details of the foreign student workers’ situation became known.
The Hershey Co. is now doing the right thing for the foreign students working in its own backyard — much as the company is making efforts abroad to aid cocoa farmers and others in its supply chain. But it shouldn’t have taken days of protests and national media coverage to make that happen.