Hershey’s is not a super great brand. We all know this, and I came into this with my own biases against Hershey’s as a large corporation and as a mainstream brand in an industry rife with labor concerns, including slavery. Hershey’ is a classic huge brand with many sustainability initiatives but a sad amount of useful progress. Something smells like greenwashing...
One good thing about Hershey’s ingredients is that they removed some of the artificial ones in 2015, including PGPR, an emulsifer, and vanillin, an artificial vanilla flavoring. This was in an effort to simplify the ingredients in their chocolate bar, which had stayed unchanged for decades, and help consumers understand what they were eating. They also never included high fructose corn syrup in their bars. Perhaps a small win for the consumer, and they aren’t just speaking of potential progress to be made, but they’re actually doing it.
Their milk chocolate bar is apparently made of 100% “certified and sustainably sourced” cocoa, but the certifications that encompass this are Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance/UTZ, and ISO/CEN criteria. These certifications have their own issues of scandal and non-enforcement, but it also has limited meaning to say that 100% of your cocoa is certified by one of these three organizations, when (a) each enforce different things and have different meanings, and (b) I don’t know what the percentage breakdown is. If 90% of the cocoa is Fair Trade, and 5% is allocated to each of the others, that means I can trust your labor practices more than your conservation of biodiversity; the opposite is true when you switch Rainforest Alliance/UTZ with Fair Trade, and ISO/CEN criteria aren’t even recognized in the USA (not that they aren’t helpful, but they’re not necessarily understandable for an American consumer, and their standards are designed not only with sustainability and ethics, but also with the goal to protect the European market). This commitment isn’t just fishy on paper, though. Hershey’s has had multiple scandals of forced and child labor in their cocoa supply chain, as well as RSPO violations, which means they are failing their path toward “sourcing 100% traceable and responsible palm oil”. And I don’t really care that they have great initiatives, because any large corporation has initiatives in today’s age.
Hershey’s has a bunch of sustainability, human rights, and labor initiatives/policies, including committing to the Paris Agreement’s limit of 2 degrees C warming and endorsing the UN SDGs. Also, some subsidiaries of Hershey’s - like Scharffen Berger ($4.99/3oz bar) and Dagoba ($3.89/2.83oz bar) - use Rainforest Alliance Certified cacao with other initiatives like organic/women empowerment. Of course, these are only limited to the very high end, smaller brands that they own, which often had these initiatives before being bought by Hershey’s. Hershey’s Trust, founded by Milton Hershey at the start of the company, was created to support orphans and owns a vast majority of the company’s shares, but has consistently been found to be misdirecting money toward Hershey’s Chocolate and neglecting their children. Hershey’s has also not supported more stringent proposed regulation, based on EU models, for monitoring labor practices in the cocoa industry. For these reasons and others, although I commend their initiatives and hesitate to assume all of them are marketing schemes, I do think that for most of Hershey’s talking the talk, they can’t quite walk the walk.