Category: Justice at Hershey’s

In August, 2011, NGA launched the Justice at Hershey’s campaign with 400 students from around the world who came to the U.S. for a cultural exchange and found themselves captive workers at the Hershey’s packing plant.
NGA supported the workers in their organizing and connected them with PA workers and organized labor.
The students’ demands:

– End Hershey’s exploitation of student guestworkers
– Give living wage jobs to local workers

Fewer Foreigners Will Fill Delaware Beach Jobs

By Eric Ruth

Chris Darr remembers the looks of desperation on their faces.

Scared students from across Eastern Europe would show up every day at his office, hoping to find a job, unable to find a place to live.

Too frequently, the personnel manager at Rehoboth Beach’s Funland amusement center had no choice but to turn them away — at the time, there were simply too many students, and too few jobs.

Now, those difficult conversations shouldn’t happen so often.

Learn more ...

State Department Revises Foreign Student Job Program After Abuse Complaints


May 4, 2012

The State Department, responding to a wave of complaints from foreign students about abuses under a summer cultural exchange program, issued new rules on Friday significantly revising the types of jobs the students can do, prohibiting them from most warehouse, construction, manufacturing and food-processing work.

The rules are the most extensive changes the State Department has made to its largest cultural exchange program since several hundred foreign students protested last summer at a plant in Pennsylvania that packs Hershey’s chocolates. The students said they were forced to work on grueling production lines lifting heavy boxes, often on night shifts, isolated in the plant from any American workers.

After paycheck deductions, the students said, they were paid so little they could not afford to travel in the United States, as the program promised.

Robin Lerner, deputy assistant secretary of state for private sector exchange, said the department’s goal with the revisions was “to bring the program back to its core cultural purposes.”

The five-decade-old Summer Work Travel Program brings more than 100,000 foreign university students here each year to work for up to three months and then travel for a month. The program, which uses a visa known as J-1, is designed to give students who are not from wealthy backgrounds a chance to experience the United States. The students’ trips are arranged by American sponsoring agencies that find jobs and housing for them.

The department said “the work component” of the program “has too often overshadowed the core cultural component” that Congress intended. The department also said the changes responded to concerns raised by the students at the Hershey’s packing plant.

Those students were “concentrated in single locations for long hours in jobs that provided little or no opportunity to interact with U.S. citizens,” the department wrote to explain the rules. They were “exposed to workplace and safety hazards” and “subjected to predatory practices through wage deductions” for housing.

Under rules that will take effect early next week, international students will no longer be allowed to work in warehouse or packing jobs, on night shifts or in jobs the Labor Department has designated “hazardous to youth.” In addition, the students will not be placed in jobs involving gambling, traveling fairs, massage or tattooing.

After Nov. 1, students will not be allowed in most factory jobs, including manufacturing and food processing. They will be barred from mining, oil exploration and most construction jobs.

The State Department also established new requirements for sponsors to inform students about specific cultural activities that will be available and to review all jobs offered to students to make sure they are appropriate. Job placements “must provide opportunities for participants to interact regularly with U.S. citizens and experience U.S. culture during the work portion of their programs,” the rules specify.

Most students under the program have worked in resort jobs, in hotels or restaurants as waiters, desk clerks, lifeguards or maintenance staff members. Many worked in national parks.

The department also tightened requirements on sponsors to “confirm” annually with employers that no American workers were displaced by students. Employers will not be allowed to hire foreign students if they have laid off workers in the previous four months.

“These rules are a clear vindication by Secretary Clinton of the students’ claims,” said Saket Soni, executive director of the National Guestworker Alliance, the group that helped organize the Hershey students; he was referring to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. “They were right, and Hershey was wrong.”

US revamps student work-visa program after abuses

May 4, 2012, 5:17 p.m. EDT

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The State Department announced major changes Friday to one of its premier cultural-exchange programs following an investigation by The Associated Press that found widespread abuses.

The agency issued new rules for the J-1 Summer Work and Travel Program, which brings more than 100,000 foreign college students to the United States each year.

The changes are the latest in a series of steps the State Department has taken to fix the program since the 2010 AP investigation. The investigation found that some participants were working in strip clubs, not always willingly, while others were put in living and working conditions they compared to indentured servitude.

The J-1 Summer Work and Travel Program, created under the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961, allows foreign college students to spend up to four months living and working in the United States. It was meant to foster cultural understanding, but has become a booming, multimillion-dollar international business.

“In recent years, the work component has too often overshadowed the core cultural component necessary for the Summer Work Travel Program to be consistent with the intent of the Fulbright-Hays Act,” the State Department said in announcing the new rules.

“Also, the Department learned that criminal organizations were involving participants in incidents relating to the illegal transfer of cash, the creation of fraudulent businesses, and violations of immigration law.”

The new rules are meant to ensure that students are treated properly and that they get jobs where there will be interaction with Americans and exposure to U.S. culture.

Some of the rules are effective immediately, while others will take effect in November, including a significant one that would prohibit participants from working in “goods-producing” industries such as manufacturing, construction and agriculture. The rules also ban participants from working in jobs in which the primary hours are between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

“The new reforms for the Summer Work Travel program focus on strengthening protections for the health, safety and welfare of the participants, and on bringing the program back to its primary purpose, which is to provide a cultural experience for international students,” Robin Lerner, a deputy assistant secretary for the State Department, said in a statement Friday.

“This is a valuable people-to-people diplomacy program and the changes allow us to improve the unique qualities of the program by providing clarity for participants, their sponsors and employers on what is and is not appropriate.”

George Collins, an inspector with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Department in the Florida Panhandle who has investigated abuses in the program for nearly a decade, said he is pleased with the changes.

“While I might have preferred stronger requirements here or there, I think the new regulations go a long way to help protect workers from the kinds of abuse we have seen routinely,” Collins said. “We intend to check implementation in the field, and will notify the State Department of any activities we believe violate these rules.”

The visa program is aimed at allowing students of modest means to work in seasonal or temporary jobs as a way of offsetting the costs of their travel to the U.S. More than 1 million students have participated in a variety of jobs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Most participants enjoy their time in the U.S., establishing lifelong memories and friendships. For some, the program is a frightening experience that leaves them with a bad impression of the country.

In one of the worst cases of abuse, a woman told the AP she was beaten, raped and forced to work as a stripper in Detroit after being promised a job as a waitress in Virginia. A federal indictment last year in New York charged that members of the Gambino and Bonnano mafia families and the Russian mob were using fraudulent job offers to help Eastern European women come to the U.S. to work in strip clubs.

More common than sex-trade abuses have been reports of shabby housing, scarce work hours and paltry pay, alleged conditions that led workers to protest last year at a candy factory that packs Hershey chocolates in Hershey, Pa. Those workers complained of hard physical labor and pay deductions for rent that often left them with little money. The company that sponsored those students lost its State Department certification.

Saket Soni, executive director of the National Guestworker Alliance, a workers advocacy group, said the changes vindicate the 400 students who protested against conditions at the candy factory and the changes are a step in the right direction.

“Businesses have grown used to a profit formula based on shifting the nature of work in the U.S. from permanent to temporary, from stable to precarious. Increasingly, they do that by eroding wages and conditions for U.S. workers, and treating guestworkers, including cultural exchange students, as the ultimate source of cheap, exploitable labor,” Soni said.

Some of the new rules are aimed at the 49 companies the State Department designates as official “sponsors,” whose job is to help the students obtain visas and other documents, find jobs and housing, and make sure the participants are treated properly. The new rules prohibit sponsors from paying host employers to accept participants and require them to provide itemized lists of all student fees.

“A core presumption underlies the Department’s renewed focus on the cultural component of the Summer Work Travel Program,” the State Department said, adding that only sponsors who can show their students are being exposed to the culture outside of work will be given the two-year contracts that are issued.

Daniel Costa, an immigration policy lawyer for the Economic Policy Institute who has studied the program extensively, said there are positive changes, like the rule that prohibits staffing agencies from subcontracting workers to other companies, but he said there’s more work to do.

“I think it would have been better to use stronger language and explicitly state that sponsors should be prohibited from forcing a J-1 worker to remain on a job if they have legitimate complaints, or from threatening the J-1 with program termination if they don’t remain on the job,” he said. “That seems to be a common issue.”

He also said the State Department should keep a black list of “bad actor employers” and prohibit sponsors from working with them.

“Just hoping that employers will ‘cooperate’ and having no sanctions available if they don’t, allows employers to act with impunity and to hop from sponsor to sponsor if they act illegally. This keeps in place the incentive for sponsors to cover-up the bad acts of employers because the sponsor is the only one that will actually get in trouble by sanctions.”

In a previous round of changes, the State Department said it had temporarily stopped accepting any new sponsors and limited the number of future participants to about 109,000 students annually. The program peaked with about 153,000 participants in 2008.

The number of participants should be lower and tied to the unemployment rate in the U.S., Costa said.

There also are three new rules meant to protect American workers, including prohibiting from the program companies that have had layoffs in the previous 120 days or whose workers are on strike.

The State Department says it wants to ensure the jobs are really seasonal or temporary and won’t displace U.S. workers.

The program requires participants to come to the U.S. during their summer breaks, which fall at different times in different parts of the world. In the past, that had allowed companies to fill what were actually permanent jobs with a series of student workers.

Businesses that hire a foreign student over an American can save 8 percent because they don’t have to pay Medicare, Social Security and unemployment taxes. Also, the foreigners must have their own health insurance.

On May 2, 2012, the U.S. State Department released new rules for the J-1 visa Summer Work Travel program. Below is a statement on the new rules by Saket Soni, Executive Director of the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA):

“In August 2011, 400 students occupied the Hershey’s factory to expose how the chocolate giant hijacked a cultural exchange program to turn hundreds of permanent, local, living-wage jobs into sub-minumum wage, temporary jobs. Today Secretary Cinton has vindicated the student guestworkers by pushing back against Hershey’s and hundreds of corporations like it.

“We fully expect the corporate lobby to fight against these rules, because they are a step toward the protections that all workers need in America.

“Every time workers have stood up for basic dignity — and every time the Obama administration has taken steps to support them — corporations have fought them. Businesses have grown used to a profit formula based on shfiting the nature of work in the U.S. from permanent to temporary, from stable to precarious. Increasingly, they do that by eroding wages and conditions for U.S. workers, and treating guestworkers, including cultural exchange students, as the ultimate source of cheap, exploitable labor.

“These rules don’t include every protection that student guestworkers need, but they are a clear step toward ending the exploitation that Hershey’s exemplified. Guestworkers will be organizing all across the U.S. this summer — in the summer work travel program, the H-2B guestworker program, and beyond — to defend decent work and dignified conditions for all.”

CONTACT: Stephen Boykewich, NGA Communications Director,, 718-791-9162

Yesterday, meeting behind locked doors, rows of metal barriers, and armed guards, Hershey’s shareholders heard that the chocolate giant had made more than $1 billion in profits globally in 2011.

They also learned from the 99% that Hershey’s has gone from an iconic American brand to an icon of corporate greed.

More than 100 Pennsylvanians marched on Hershey’s shareholder meeting under the banner of the 99% Power coalition—ordinary people who have united to build an economy and a democracy that works for all of us, not just for the 1%. All around the country this spring, members of the 99% are challenging 1% board members and executives who have expanded inequality, threatened democracy, destroyed our environment, and put profit ahead of the survival of families and communities.

Pennsylvanians from the 99% entered the Hershey’s shareholder meeting and held management’s feet to the fire for destroying hundreds of permanent, living-wage jobs and subcontracting to replace them with temporary, sub-minimum wage jobs for exploitable guestworkers. They challenged Hershey’s use of child labor in Africa, and illegal discrimination by the Milton Hershey School against a 13-year-old HIV-positive boy.

Outside, joined by labor, civil, and human rights leaders from NGA, SEIU Healthcare PA, and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Pennsylvanians marched and delivered powerful testimonies about their fight against the depths of Hershey’s greed.

Our demands to Hershey’s:

  1. create dignified, living wage jobs for local workers;
  2. sign the NGA’s Worker Dignity Protocols to end exploitation of guestworkers; and
  3. pledge an immediate end to discriminatory practices and abuses that affect children at both the Hershey School and the Hershey family of companies.

Local public radio interviewed Mitch Troutman, an NGA organizer and lifelong Central Pennsylvanian who’s holding down three jobs to make ends meet:

“Last year, this company brought 400 workers here to pay them next to nothing so they didn’t have to pay local workers. We don’t want that to happen again, and we’re here to say we’re not going away, we’re going to be watching you.”

Thank you for all you’ve contributed to this fight!

In solidarity,

Saket Soni

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