To ‘Occupy’ or Patronize Cosi?
They came, they camped, they got arrested, they asked for bail money, they left. And now they’re headed up to New York to do it all over again.
The Occupy National Gathering was, by most measures, a success: The Working Group in charge of organizing, made up of a few members of Occupy Philly, put together a large enough protest (estimates of which were in the “hundreds” of human bodies) in a small amount of time. They brought in representation from all over the country, and got press.
But having run into some members of the protest grabbing free coffee at an Old City Starbucks July 4 morning (the international coffee corporation gave out one free tall coffee per customer, or per “guest” as overly-enthusiastic baristas often refer to people in the stores), it reminded me of some of the public meetings that went into setting up the weekend’s festivities. Specifically, the time in late May, when the local arm of the international movement in part dedicated to human rights seemingly dismissed the city’s numerous independent coffee shops to note on their Facebook page the National Gathering Working Group would be holding a planning meeting at the 4th and Chestnut Cosi.
Cosi, of course being the international, Nasdaq-traded chain restaurant that’s been drowning in hot water over its participation in human trafficking.
And in light of the gathering coming and going, now seems as good a time as any to discuss what that company, and others, are doing out in West Africa, and what’s being done to stop it.
The first part goes like this: The cocoa in the Hershey’s chocolate used in one of Cosi’s best-selling products, S’mores, is not fair trade. And that’s bad. This unflattering fact has sparked a Change.org online petition created by the International Labor Rights Forum last year, asking the chain sandwich restaurant to update/humanize their s’mores policy.
It’s too bad that Cosi never acknowledged the petition—even after it was signed by more than 1,000 people. But the problem stems from the Hershey, PA-based chocolate company. And their response has been a bit weirder.
As late as June 12 (which, not coincidentally, is World Day Against Child Labor), groups like Green America were calling on Hershey’s to take action and begin using cocoa that’s been certified by independent third parties to comply with international labor rights standards.
The Pennsylvania company has gone out of its way—unlike Cosi—to claim credit it is not due on this issue. For instance, it has often said it’s addressing child labor laws through the Harkin-Engel Protocol, put into place to reduce child labor on West African cocoa farms. Problem is, a Tulane University research team put together by the U.S. Department of Labor in 2011 found that hasn’t eliminated the worst forms of child labor and human trafficking very much.
And Occupy’s use of Cosi’s space isn’t limited to one occurrence in May. A search of OccupyPhilly.org shows the chain’s spot at 17th and Walnut was regularly used for “Free University of Philadelphia” meetings and a similar National Gathering meeting took place at the Old City Cosi on June 11th. And for a movement that seems to go so far out of its way to address human rights concerns, you’d imagine this particular issue would have at least been on the radar.
The work Hershey’s puts into its bars has often been called one of the “worst forms of child labor and trafficked labor.” In addition to the Protocol, Hershey’s announced it was going to be working with the Rainforest Alliance to certify some of its specific products—like its Bliss and Dagoba candies. But those only represent a tiny portion of what Hershey’s sells.
“Cocoa farmers typically live in poverty, and, as a result, instances of forced labor, human trafficking and the worst forms of child labor are found too often on cocoa farms in West Africa,” reads the aforementioned Change.org petition. “S’Mores are a symbol of the fun and freedom of summer for children, and that freedom should extend to all children, everywhere. It’s time Cosi switched to Fair Trade chocolate for their s’mores.”