Welcome to America! It sounded like the perfect summer job. Four hundred students from China, Africa and eastern Europe would work in a Hershey’s chocolate packing plant in Palmyra, Pennsylvania, before using their earnings to travel the US and learn English.
It turned out to be not as sweet as they hoped.
Students Exploited By Hershey’s, Says Complaint
The National Guestworker Alliance filed a complaint Wednesday on behalf of 400 international students who had apparently paid $3,000 to $6,000 to participate in a U.S.-certified cultural exchange program. The complaint, sent to the U.S. Department of State, says the students were exploited by Hershey Co. and that the company takes unfair advantage of the program. The students also launched a protest at the plant.
Shifts, often at night, consisted of lifting dozens of heavy boxes, trying to control fast-moving production lines, they said.
“They don’t care if you are small, you don’t have the power, you didn’t eat – they just care about their production,” one of the students said.
From The Los Angeles Times:
The students, who hail from countries such as China, Turkey, Ukraine, Moldova, Mongolia, Ghana and Thailand, were recruited at their universities to participate in the U.S. State Department J-1 visa program, described on a U.S. State Department website as an Exchange Visitor Program. The program leads to a three-month visa that allows students to work in the United States while learning about American culture and improving their English skills.
The goal of the program, according to the State Department’s site, is to foster “global understanding through educational and cultural exchange.”
Instead, says a representative of the National Guestworker Alliance, students who wound up at the Hershey’s plant were living in “economic captivity,” forced to pay for mandatory company housing that left them with $40 to $140 a week for 40 hours of work.
Students Threatened With Deportation When They Complained
According to the complaint, when the students complained about the violations of U.S. law, “they were threatened with deportation and other long term immigration consequences to remain quiet about the violations.”
Hershey’s reputation is not doing so well these days. I wrote here, back in June, about the large crowds gathered in New York City to protest Hershey’s use of child labor in West Africa.
And now there is this protest by over 400 foreign students.
Click here to sign our petition urging the U.S. State Department to deal fairly with the students’ complaint.
Photo Credit: Wesley Fryer via Creative Commons