PHILADELPHIA -- Candy maker Hershey is vowing to use only certified cocoa for all of its chocolate products by 2020 and accelerate programs to help eliminate child labor in the cocoa-producing regions of West Africa.
The company has come under fire from activists who said it was the only major chocolate producer in the world that hadn't made a commitment to use certified cocoa.
The central Pennsylvania company said Wednesday its plan to use certified cocoa – which is produced according to certain social, economic and environmental standards – should "significantly expand" the global supply of such cocoa, especially from West Africa, which produces about 70 percent of the world's cocoa. Currently, certified cocoa accounts for less than 5 percent of the world's cocoa supply, Hershey said.
The company also vowed to continue its support of community development programs, such as village school construction, mobile phone farmer messaging, training in modern farming techniques and literacy and health programs.
"Consistent with Hershey's values, we are directly addressing the economic and social issues that impact West Africa's two million cocoa farmers and families," J.P. Bilbrey, company president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. "I am confident that we can make a substantial difference in West Africa by 2020."
The company said independent auditors will verify the certified cocoa was produced by the highest labor, environmental and farming practices.
"Fair trade" campaigns have led to agreements by chocolate makers to help clean up the cocoa supply chain, but activists and researchers say little has changed in the decade since the U.S. Congress passed the Harkin-Engel Protocol to introduce a "no child slavery" label for chocolate marketed in the United States.
Some 1.8 million children, ages 5 to 17, work on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast and Ghana, according to the fourth annual report produced by Tulane University under contract to the U.S. Department of Labor to monitor progress in the protocol. The report says 40 percent of the 820,000 children working in cocoa in Ivory Coast are not enrolled in school, and only about 5 percent of the Ivorian children are paid for their work.
Hershey said previously that it was working to improve lives in local communities, and the company this year said it would invest $10 million in West Africa to reduce child labor and improve the cocoa supply, mostly in Ghana and Ivory Coast.
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Chocolate Decreases Stroke Risk
A 2011 Swedish study found that women who ate more than 45 grams of chocolate a week had a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/11/chocolate-stroke-prevention_n_1004426.html" target="_hplink">20 percent lower risk of stroke</a> than women who treated themselves to fewer than 9 grams of the sweet stuff.
Chocolate Boosts Heart Health
Regular chocolate eaters welcome a host of benefits for their hearts, including <a href="http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/298/1/49" target="_hplink">lower blood pressure</a>, <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/10/011024073452.htm" target="_hplink">lower "bad" LDL cholesterol</a> and a <a href="http://www.bmj.com/content/343/bmj.d4488" target="_hplink">lower risk of heart disease</a>. One of the reasons dark chocolate is especially heart-healthy is its inflammation-fighting properties, which <a href="http://www.livescience.com/2886-chocolate-helps-heart-stay-healthy.html" target="_hplink">reduce cardiovascular risk</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/chocolatereviews/4295028171/" target="_hplink">Lee McCoy</a></em>
Chocolate Fills You Up
Because it's rich in fiber, dark chocolate can actually help keep you full, so you'll eat less, Dr. David Katz, founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center and HuffPost blogger <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/26/chocolate-eating-lower-bmi-body-mass-index_n_1379368.html" target="_hplink">told The Huffington Post</a>. Regular chocolate eaters might do themselves a favor by treating themselves to a bite instead of snacking on "11 other things first" he said. Dark chocolate does the trick much better than milk, according to a small study from the University of Copenhagen, and <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081210091039.htm" target="_hplink">may even reduce cravings</a> for sweet, salty and fatty foods. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/veganfeast/4216679799/" target="_hplink">Vegan Feast Catering</a></em>
Chocolate May Fight Diabetes
A small Italian study from 2005 found that regularly eating chocolate <a href="http://www.ajcn.org/content/81/3/611.abstract" target="_hplink">increases insulin sensitivity</a>, thereby <a href="http://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/benefits-of-chocolate?page=4" target="_hplink">reducing risk for diabetes</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/integer_club/5494506008/" target="_hplink">The Integer Club</a></em>
Chocolate Protects Your Skin
Forget what you've heard about chocolate causing breakouts: Dark chocolate is actually good for your skin. The type of antioxidants called flavonoids found in dark chocolate offer some <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16702322" target="_hplink">protection from UV damage</a> from the sun. And no, that does not mean you can skip the sunscreen!
Chocolate Can Quiet Coughs
Can't stop coughing? An ingredient in chocolate called <a href="http://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/benefits-of-chocolate?page=8" target="_hplink">theobromine seems to reduce activity of the vagus nerve</a>, the part of the brain that triggers hard-to-shake coughs. In late 2010, the BBC reported that scientists were investigating creating a <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12048275" target="_hplink">drug containing theobromine</a> to preplace cough syrups containing codeine, which can have risky side effects. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/ryanboren/2899151607/" target="_hplink">ryancboren</a></em>
Chocolate Boosts Your Mood
There's no denying that indulging your sweet tooth every once in a while feels great. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-patricia-fitzgerald/7-healthy-reasons-to-enjo_b_257159.html" target="_hplink">Enjoying food is part of enjoying life</a>, points out HuffPost Healthy Living's wellness editor, Dr. Patricia Fitzgerald. Chocolate eaters also report <a href="http://www.livescience.com/7974-chocolate-reduces-stress-study-finds.html" target="_hplink">feeling less stressed</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/3786631395/" target="_hplink">stevendepolo</a></em>
Chocolate Improves Blood Flow
Cocoa has <a href="http://www.ajcn.org/content/72/1/30.abstract?ijkey=81b06eb4f0ad8ec254f63a0b0eb8f81aba944e8d&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha" target="_hplink">anti-clotting, blood-thinning properties</a> that work in a similar way to aspirin, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-patricia-fitzgerald/7-healthy-reasons-to-enjo_b_257159.html" target="_hplink">Dr. Fitzgerald writes</a>, which can improve blood flow and circulation. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidberkowitz/6814174341/" target="_hplink">David Berkowitz</a></em>
Chocolate Improves Vision
Because of chocolate's ability to improve blood flow, in particular to the brain, researchers at the University of Reading hypothesized in a small 2011 study that chocolate may also <a href="http://bodyodd.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/08/08/7268604-skip-the-carrots-chocolate-improves-eyesight-too" target="_hplink">increase blood flow to the retina</a>, thereby giving vision a boost. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/29233640@N07/6656970895/" target="_hplink">Robert Couse-Baker</a></em>
Chocolate May Make You Smarter
That boost of blood flow to the brain created by cocoa's flavanols seems to make people feel more awake and alert, and, in a small British study, <a href="http://www.livescience.com/3443-chocolate-helps-math.html" target="_hplink">perform better on counting tasks</a>.