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Hershey to invest $10M in Africa, buy sustainable cocoa

By , - Last modified: January 30, 2012 at 12:07 PM

The Hershey Co. plans to invest more than $10 million over five years into programs to reduce child labor and improve farming communities in West African cocoa-producing countries, as well as begin buying certified, sustainable cocoa for its products, it today announced.

"(The investment) helps address long-term cocoa trends to make sure supply will continue to meet the world demands," said Andy McCormick, Hershey's vice president of public affairs.

Later this year, the Dauphin County-based chocolate maker will source all of its cocoa for its Bliss and Dagoba products from Rainforest Alliance-certified farms. The New York-based nonprofit certifies farms that produce environmentally sustainable cocoa in ways ensuring the safety and well-being of workers, families and communities, according to Hershey.

Groups advocating for better social conditions in West Africa have been pressing Hershey for years to follow other chocolate manufacturers buying certified sustainably produced cocoa.

Only about 2 percent of cocoa bought and used in the U.S. is certified sustainable, but that amount is growing steadily, McCormick said. Certified cocoa purchases are projected to hit 20 million by 2020, he said. It could expand certified purchases in the future depending on the market and program success, he said.

Hershey felt it was the right time to begin buying, but there needs to be a market for uncertified cocoa, too, McCormick said.

That's why the company is ramping up other programs to promote broad use of sustainable practices, including:

  • Expanding its CocoaLink program in Ghana and taking it to the Ivory Coast. CocoaLink uses cell phones to connect rural farmers with crop information and worker standards. Farmers could use GPS on cell phones to better estimate acreage for accurate crop management.
  • The company will start Learn To Grow, a Hershey-branded cocoa farm and family development center in Ghana to promote modern agriculture, Ghana's educational improvement goals and communitywide education. London-based farm sustainability nonprofit Source Trust is a partner in the initiative that will establish 25 farmer organizations around the country.
  • Invest in initiatives to reduce child labor across West African cocoa sources.

Hershey, based in Derry Township, trades its shares on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol HSY.

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