FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Chocolate Sweatshop

by DAVID MACARAY

What happened recently at the Hershey candy factory, in Palmyra, Pennsylvania, has to be considered one of the weirdest and most outrageous labor stories of the new year.

First the outrageous part.  According to a story in the New York Times (February 21), Exel, the logistics company hired by Hershey to oversee its Palmyra operation, was found guilty by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) of intentionally failing to report 42 serious injuries in the plant over a period of four years.  Those 42 accidents constituted 43-percent of all such injuries that occurred during that period.

The majority of those injuries were related to the lifting and rehandling of large crates (some weighing 60 pounds) of Reese’s cups, Kit-Kat bars, and Hershey’s Kisses.  The Labor Department issued fines in the amount of $280,000, and David Michaels, the Assistant Secretary of Labor in charge of OSHA, was quoted as saying, “Exel understood exactly what the law was on reporting.  They were aware of these other injuries, and they just did not record them.”  So that $283,000 penalty (inordinately high for OSHA violations) wasn’t levied for the usual reasons—improper record-keeping or unsafe working conditions—but for the much more serious crime of willful deceit.

Of course, Hershey wiped its hands clean of the whole affair, claiming they had no knowledge of how Exel ran the operation.  This “veil of ignorance” nonsense is reminiscent of American sportswear and sports equipment companies claiming not to know that their products—the ones being sold for top dollar on American shelves—are
being manufactured in Central American sweatshops where near slave-labor conditions exist, and where union activists are regularly threatened, beaten and, on occasion, murdered.

Unfortunately, this “know nothing” posture is prevalent across-the-board.  By their own admission, the U.S. Government in Iraq had no knowledge of what Halliburton and Blackwater were doing, and Halliburton and Blackwater had no knowledge of what their subcontractors were doing, which meant, conveniently, that no one could be held accountable. Contractors and subcontractors now litter the commercial landscape.  Say what you will about the “enemy,” but the only guys in Iraq who seemed to know who answered to whom were the insurgents.

As to the safety aspect of the Hershey fiasco, let’s be clear: there’s no way this could have happened in a union shop. Not only would a union facility have 24-hour a day shop stewards, union safety coordinators, ergonomic analysis committees, (not to mention a hotline directly to OSHA), but the company would never dream of concealing it.

Management would know that no accident or injury could possibly go unreported—unless the individual workers involved purposely concealed them (which, in most cases, would get them in trouble with both the company and the union).  In short, the difference in safety conditions and responses between a union shop and non-union shop is the difference between night and day.  There’s no comparison.

And now for the weird part.  According to that NYT story, many of these employees were student workers here in the U.S. on an “international cultural exchange program,” recruited by SHS Staffing Solutions, the subcontractor hired by Exel (the contractor hired by Hershey), to man up the operation.  Apparently, Exel was using hundreds of these foreign workers to do the heavy lifting.

Which raises several questions.  For one thing, what sort of “international cultural exchange program” involves the participants doing manual labor in a factory?  What is so “culturally beneficial” about heaving cases of Kit-Kat candy bars on the graveyard shift at a Hershey plant?  And if it’s an “exchange” program, does this mean it’s a two-way street?  Are an equal number of Americans traveling to foreign countries to do this kind of work?  Are American students volunteering to spend summer vacations working in Ukrainian salt mines?  If so, it’s the first we’ve heard of it.

And not to sound mean-spirited or xenophobic, but with unemployment hovering around 9-percent, why aren’t American workers being offered these jobs?  If there’s a genuine need for this lifting and hoisting, there are American workers willing to do it.  Alas, if you pay a decent wage, as strenuous as the work may be, you’ll find a long line of them waiting outside the hiring hall.

DAVID MACARAY, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep.   He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 28, 2017
Binoy Kampmark
The European Commission, Google and Anti-Competition
Jesse Jackson
A Savage Health Care Bill
Jimmy Centeno
Cats and Meows in L.A
June 27, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again
Jonathan Cook
Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried From View
Edward Hunt
Excessive and Avoidable Harm in Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Death of Democracy Both Here and Abroad and All Those Colorful Sneakers
Gary Leupp
Immanuel Kant on Electoral Interference
Kenneth Surin
Theresa May and the Tories are in Freefall
Slavoj Zizek
Get the Left
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia Wants to Reduce Qatar to a Vassal State
Ralph Nader
Driverless Cars: Hype, Hubris and Distractions
Rima Najjar
Palestinians Are Seeking Justice in Jerusalem – Not an Abusive Life-Long Mate
Norman Solomon
Is ‘Russiagate’ Collapsing as a Political Strategy?
Binoy Kampmark
In the Twitter Building: Tech Incubators and Altering Perceptions
Dean Baker
Uber’s Repudiation is the Moment for the U.S. to Finally Start Regulating the So-called Sharing Economy
Rob Seimetz
What I Saw From The Law
George Wuerthner
The Causes of Forest Fires: Climate vs. Logging
June 26, 2017
William Hawes – Jason Holland
Lies That Capitalists Tell Us
Chairman Brandon Sazue
Out of the Shadow of Custer: Zinke Proves He’s No “Champion” of Indian Country With his Grizzly Lies
Patrick Cockburn
Grenfell Tower: the Tragic Price of the Rolled-Back Stat
Joseph Mangano
Tritium: Toxic Tip of the Nuclear Iceberg
Ray McGovern
Hersh’s Big Scoop: Bad Intel Behind Trump’s Syria Attack
Roy Eidelson
Heart of Darkness: Observations on a Torture Notebook
Geoff Beckman
Why Democrats Lose: the Case of Jon Ossoff
Matthew Stevenson
Travels Around Trump’s America
David Macaray
Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret
Colin Todhunter
Future Shock: Imagining India
Yoav Litvin
Animals at the Roger Waters Concert
Binoy Kampmark
Pride in San Francisco
Stansfield Smith
North Koreans in South Korea Face Imprisonment for Wanting to Return Home
Hamid Yazdan Panah
Remembering Native American Civil Rights Pioneer, Lehman Brightman
James Porteous
Seventeen-Year-Old Nabra Hassanen Was Murdered
Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail