A Toronto man claims in a class action that Hershey Canada Inc. and its corporate parents misleadingly market their candy products by failing to disclose “rampant” child labour and slavery used in their supply chains.
Mark Reynolds filed a notice of civil claim under the Class Proceedings Act in BC Supreme Court on January 20, naming Hershey Canada, the Hershey Co. (NYSE:HSY) and Hershey Chocolate & Confectionary Corp. as defendants.
The proposed class consists of Canadian residents who bought chocolate products who “were unaware of the use of child labour and slavery in the Defendants’ supply chain; and would not have purchased chocolate products manufactured and/or marketed by the Defendants as often or at all, or would not have paid as much ... if they had been aware of the use of child labour and slavery.”
Reynolds claims that Hershey’s “failure to disclose these practices amount to a misrepresentation to Canadian consumers.”
According to the lawsuit, Hershey touts its practices as “socially and ethically responsible” and that it opposes the use of child labour while they allegedly “permit, encourage and benefit” from child labour, listing the Ivory Coast as one of its primary sources of raw cocoa for more than 50 years. In the period between 2008 and 2014, the number of children working in the African country’s cocoa industry grew 46%, a period during which “the Defendants realized a profit in excess of $15 billion.” A U.S. Department of Labour report, according to the lawsuit, found that from 2013 to 2014 more than 1.1 million children “were engaged in the Worst Forms of Child Labor, including hazardous work, the use of dangerous tools, transport of heavy loads, and exposure to dangerous pesticides.”
Reynolds claims studies and surveys show “consumers have become sensitive to the human cost of the products that they buy.”
“Hershey is well aware of the consumer concern about human rights abuses in supply chains and has thus mounted its extensive public relations effort to position itself as a company that does not permit child and slave labor in its supply chain,” the claim states. “Its hollow public relations statements mask the tragic truth that millions of African children are engaged in the Worst Forms of Child Labor to produce the Defendants’ product.”
Reynold’s lawsuit seeks class certification and damages for misrepresentation, unjust enrichment and Competition Act violations. The allegations have not been tested or proven in court, and the defendants had not responded to the lawsuit by press time.