Damning human rights report on Hershey’s case sparks community effort to make students whole, win good local jobs
Hershey, PA–On September 6, AFL-CIO PA state federation president Rick Bloomingdale joined Hershey’s student workers and other community and labor leaders for a press conference at the Hershey’s Story museum in Hershey, PA, to announce:
- the results of a damning human rights report on exploitation of J-1 student workers at the Hershey’s packing plant by six leading human rights scholars from five U.S. universities (see attached excerpts or download the full report); and
- the formation of the Good Jobs at Hershey’s Task Force—a broad community coalition of labor, clergy, and community groups demanding that Hershey’s make the exploited student workers whole and create living wage jobs for local workers.
After the press conference, the group traveled to the headquarters of the Hershey’s Trust and delivered a copy of the human rights report, a call to meet with the Good Jobs at Hershey’s Task Force, and a petition with the students’ demands bearing more than 67,000 signatures.
The petition calls for the return of the $3,000-6,000 each the students paid for false promises of a cultural exchange, and that the 400 jobs the J-1 students filled at Hershey’s packing plant be made into living wage jobs for local workers.
Over the Labor Day weekend, a commission of by six leading human rights scholars from five U.S. universities released the results of an independent investigation into exploitation of J-1 student workers at Hershey’s packing plant (see attached excerpts or download the full report). The report includes:
- Evidence of “a widespread coercive campaign” by Hershey’s subcontractors to intimidate students who organized for basic human and labor rights;
- Details of “potential legal violations, including discrimination, forced labor, substandard conditions of work, wage theft, and infringement on associational rights”; and
- A recommendation that the State Department suspend the ability of sponsoring agency CETUSA to issue J-1 visas.
In response to the report and Hershey’s refusal to address the students’ concerns, AFL-CIO PA state president Rick Bloomingdale will announce the formation of a broad-based community task force to address Hershey’s violation both of the students’ rights, and of the rights of Central Pennsylvanians to dignified, living wage work.
The Good Jobs at Hershey’s Task Force will press Hershey’s to make the students whole, and to make the 400 packing plant jobs previously filled by captive student workers into living wage jobs for local workers, with rights, respect, and a contract.
This summer, 400 college students from around the world paid $3,000-6,000 to come to the United States for a cultural exchange program. Instead, they found themselves captive laborers at Hershey’s packing plant in Palmyra, PA, working under brutal conditions for as little as $1/hour after mandatory company deductions. The students organized with the help of the National Guestworker Alliance and held a walk-out and strike from the Hershey’s plant on Aug. 17.
Hershey’s has maintained a wall of silence since, while the students have collected more than 67,000 petition signatures from Americans supporting their demands. Hershey’s representatives refused to accept the students’ petition on the day of the strike, and Hershey’s Trust Board Chairman LeRoy Zimmerman refused to accept the petition at his Harrisburg office when the students attempted to deliver it on August 29.
The students and local supporters have since rallied in Harrisburg, Lancaster, Wilkes-Barre, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York, and Chicago. Four federal agencies are conducting investigations into the case, and an independent human rights commission released a report on the case over the Labor Day weekend.
The students’ story cuts to the heart of the current debate over the sources of America’s jobs crisis. Decades of downsizing, outsourcing, and subcontracting by corporations like Hershey’s has robbed local workers of living wage jobs, while locking immigrant workers—and even cultural exchange students on J-1 visas—into situations of captive labor.