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

On Feb. 21, 2012, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited and penalized Hershey’s subcontractors Exel and SHS for violations of federal safety and health law at the Hershey’s chocolate packing plant in Palmyra, PA.

The OSHA investigation began after hundreds of student guestworker members of the NGA went on strike from the plant in August 2011 to expose brutal conditions, sub-minimum wage pay, and threats and retaliation by supervisors and labor recruiters.

On Feb. 21, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited and penalized Hershey’s subcontractors Exel and SHS for violations of federal safety and health law at the Hershey’s chocolate packing plant in Palmyra, PA.

The OSHA investigation began after hundreds of student guestworkers went on strike from the plant in August 2011 to expose brutal conditions, sub-minimum wage pay, and threats and retaliation by supervisors and labor recruiters.

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This week, the U.S. State Department replaced Rick Ruth as head of the J-1 visa program with Robin Lerner, who has a strong anti-human trafficking background.

Below is a statement by Jennifer J. Rosenbaum, National Guestworker Alliance Legal Director.

“We are encouraged by the appointment of new leadership at the State Department to oversee the J-1 visa program. Asst. Sec. Lerner’s background in civil rights and combatting human trafficking will be helpful as the State Department reforms program rules to end the exploitation of student workers. We welcome her leadership in ensuring J-1 programs provide students a meaningful cultural and educational exchange, rather than sourcing them to employers as a captive, exploitable workforce.”

Culture exchange program clashes with students’ expectation

By Joanna Law

Many young students in China want an opportunity to go abroad. Most of them like to visit the United States, where they get to see places they have seen from Hollywood movies, experience different cultures, and learn English. The U.S. government has set up a program which, for years, has been an attraction for foreign students to stay and work in the country temporarily. But there is a risk: The students may become cheap labor before they know it.

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Nonprofit banned for two years in guest-worker probe

By Bob Fernandez

Moving decisively, the U.S. State Department has banned a nonprofit group that supplied 400 foreign students as laborers to a Hershey Co. candy-packaging plant last year from participating in a popular cultural-exchange program for two years.

The California-based organization, CETUSA, brought the foreign students to the United States on J-1 visas. Once here, the students were to have practiced English and learned about America while also earning money in summer jobs.

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State Department Slaps Nonprofit for J-1 Visa Program Violations

By Louis Altman

The U.S. State Department has clamped down on the nonprofit CETUSA, citing years of widespread abuse in its loosely-regulated cultural exchange visa programs. The recruiting agency has been banned from a popular J-1 visa program for two years.

Last year, CETUSA supplied 400 foreign “Summer Work Travel” (SWT) students to a Hershey Co. candy packaging plant (out of a total of 5,000 to 6,000 that CETUSA supplies via the SWT program—which is just one of the J-1 visa programs it engages in—annually). The students are officially supposed to have the opportunity to learn English and mingle with everyday Americans while working in safe, social jobs.

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Closing the Student Sweatshop – New York Times editorial

February 2, 2012

The State Department took a modest step on Wednesday to cleaning up a major embarrassment. Its Summer Work Travel program for foreign university students was created decades ago to promote goodwill, education and cultural exchange but has since turned into a huge, poorly regulated and abuse-prone foreign guest-worker scheme. The department said it was barring one of the program’s largest sponsors, the Council for Educational Travel, USA, known as Cetusa, from bringing in any more workers, after it sent hundreds of young people to work in a Pennsylvania factory packing Hershey’s chocolates.

The students walked off the job in August to protest dangerous working conditions and low pay at a job they described as an elaborate bait and switch.

Each had paid $3,000 to $6,000 for the privilege of joining the J-1 visa program, which recruiters had billed as a rewarding summer: a taste of Willy Wonka plus the chance to see America. What the students got was endless hours packing and toting heavy boxes, risking injury for rock-bottom wages. There was no “cultural exchange,” unless you count immersion in the culture of an exploited, disposable work force. Once fees and jacked-up rents were deducted from their paychecks, the students netted between $1 and $3.50 an hour, far less than their American counterparts.

Which, as Professor Jennifer Gordon, a labor expert at Fordham Law School, recently noted in The Times, is the point. The summer program is the country’s largest guest-worker program because it is essentially unregulated and its workers are supercheap and lacking basic labor rights. Oversight is lax because the government relies on sponsors — which profit from the program — to do it.

The State Department is making an example of Cetusa, promising to tighten standards to keep sponsors in line and students out of dangerous industries like construction and roofing. The reforms need to go much further by explicitly protecting workers’ rights, including the right to organize, and giving oversight to the Labor Department.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/03/opinion/closing-the-student-sweatshop.html

State sanctions Hershey’s labor recruiter CETUSA for exploitation, retaliation

WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 2, 2012—Today, in a vindication of the six-month campaign by the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA), the U.S. State Department announced it had barred major student guestworker recruiter CETUSA from the J-1 summer work travel visa program.

The State Department is also considering major structural changes to the J-1 program, which the NGA has pressed to protect future student workers.

CETUSA had sourced student workers into exploitation at the Hershey’s Chocolate plant in Palmyra, PA. Students organized to stop abuses, and demanded that Hershey’s turn the temporary jobs filled by J-1s back into living wage jobs for local workers. CETUSA responded with threats and retaliation.

“The State Department’s ban on CETUSA is a big win for the students, and a blow against the larger trend of labor recruiters and companies using guestworkers to hollow out industries and undercut wages and conditions all over America,” said NGA Director Saket Soni.

“Corporations like Hershey’s and labor recruiters like CETUSA have turned the J-1 cultural exchange program into the country’s largest guestworker program, and profited from captive workers earning low wages,” Soni said.

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Company Banned in Effort to Protect Foreign Students From Exploitation

By 

Signaling a sharp change of course in the country’s largest international cultural exchange program, the State Department has banned a leading sponsor company from bringing foreign students to the United States for summer jobs and will add new restrictions to protect students from labor abuse, officials said Wednesday.

The removal of the sponsor, the Council for Educational Travel, USA, was intended to send a powerful message to dozens of private companies participating in the State Department’s summer work program that they will have to monitor foreign students far more closely and ensure that participants are not exploited as cheap workers by employers.

The council, which is known as Cetusa, has been one of the biggest sponsors in the summer program and was responsible for placing about 400 foreign students last summer in a Pennsylvania plant packing Hershey’s chocolates. In August, hundreds of those program participants staged a boisterous walkout from the plant to protest low pay and dangerous job conditions.

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