FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Chocolate Sweatshop

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

September 20, 2018
Michael Hudson
Wasting the Lehman Crisis: What Was Not Saved Was the Economy
John Pilger
Hold the Front Page, the Reporters are Missing
Kenn Orphan
The Power of the Anthropocene
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
Puerto Rico’s Unnatural Disaster Rolls on Into Year Two
Rajan Menon
Yemen’s Descent Into Hell: a Saudi-American War of Terror
Russell Mokhiber
Nick Brana Says Dems Will Again Deny Sanders Presidential Nomination
Nicholas Levis
Three Lessons of Occupy Wall Street, With a Fair Dose of Memory
Steve Martinot
The Constitutionality of Homeless Encampments
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
The Aftershocks of the Economic Collapse Are Still Being Felt
Jesse Jackson
By Enforcing Climate Change Denial, Trump Puts Us All in Peril
George Wuerthner
Coyote Killing is Counter Productive
Mel Gurtov
On Dealing with China
Dean Baker
How to Reduce Corruption in Medicine: Remove the Money
September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail