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Ariana Taveras

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Why I am Marching at Hershey's Store in Times Square

Posted: 06/06/11 03:32 PM ET

At Benedictine Academy, we believe that every child has the right to an education and to be treated with dignity. Child slave labor in the chocolate industry must be stopped.

A new documentary was recently released, The Dark Side of Chocolate, about child slave labor. We saw how the children were getting beaten and working in the hot sun, unable to go to school," says student Norky Diaz. Her classmate, Kai Alexander, adds "We knew we had to get involved because we care what happens to children. Chocolate child labor is immoral." And that is just what we did. Kai Alexander, a passionate writer immediately connected her pen to her heart and wrote a rap/poem for the SHAC (Students helping All Children) Squad to use to raise awareness among their classmates and students in other schools. It is also being used as the soundtrack of our new short documentary about child slave labor in the chocolate industry.

At Benedictine Academy we have two social action groups, who work closely together on child slave labor and other areas of injustice: the SHAC Squad and the Peace & Justice Club. Why chocolate? There are at least ten million slaves in the world today, many of them children in the cocoa supply chain. Children in West Africa should be in school, not harvesting cocoa. So we painted a banner and developed postcards and flyers to spread the message to other schools and universities across the states. We spoke to hundreds of students at a Youth Leadership conference in Cincinnati, Ohio and acquired many signatures for our petitions to Hershey Company to raise the bar in their child labor standards for cocoa plantations overseas. Several members of the SHAC Squad also met with the United Nations' Office of Drug and Crime to discuss our school's efforts in raising awareness for the Blue Heart Campaign to stop Human Trafficking. We even met with the local Mayor of Elizabeth and spoke on cable television.

On Wednesday, June 8th, we will be attending the Raise the Bar Hershey Rally in Times Square. "By banding together with other students and the people in Times Square," says student Shana Lugay, "we will make our voices louder. More and more people will get to know the things that are happening in our world."

It has been ten years since Hershey said it would end these abuses. It is time to get serious. Hershey needs to catch up with its competitors in instituting actual cocoa purchasing policies that reduce Hershey's connection to child labor, forced labor and trafficking. We are calling for the legacy of Milton Hershey to live on by asking Hershey Company to commit to sourcing Fair Trade Certified cocoa beans for at least one of their five top selling chocolate bars, and for every two years thereafter, another bar. The goal is that by 2022, the majority of Hershey's cocoa across all products will be Fair Trade Certified. This should not be difficult when one considers that heart of Milton Hershey.

Student Michelle Colonia says, "We all need to care. It's an injustice that cannot be allowed to continue." The founding father of the Hershey Company, Milton Hershey, believed strongly in providing better environments for his workers and treating them fairly. He provided for the welfare and education of hundreds of boys and girls. Hershey's website says what we know was true at one time, that the Hershey founders were "compassionate humanitarians."

We believe we all have a shared responsibility to build a more just world, young or old, Hershey or Ben and Jerry's. We can and must make a difference. Ben and Jerry's is and we are asking to Hershey Company should be the leader that they once were in protecting children's rights and safety.

We are having a "We Want More from S'mores" campaign at our school next Friday. More information can be found both on the Raise the Bar Hershey campaign website at www. RaisetheBarhershey.org or on twitter at #HersheyGoFair.

Why care? "Because whatever hurts my sister and brother hurts me," replies Samantha Frejuste. This is our Benedictine Academy motto. And if we don't care, who will?

Ariana Taveras is a student in the class of 2012 at the Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth, New Jersey. She is a member of Students Helping All Children.