Hundreds of foreign exchange students walked away from their jobs at a Hershey Co. chocolate packaging plant in Pennsylvania, alleging sweatshop conditions, reports The New York Times
The State Department and Department of Labor are investigating students’ claims that they repeatedly were forced to lift 50-pound boxes of candy, work overnight shifts that started at 11 p.m., and maintain production lines that moved way too fast.
The students also said that, after the nonprofit that set up their jobs took $400 a month from each of them for rent, they were unable to pay for their month of travel or earn back the money they paid for their travel visas.
The approximately 400 students were working at the Palmyra Hershey facility as part of a State Department program that invites foreign students to work in the United States for a few months and then travel around the country for a month. Nonprofit groups set up jobs for them.
One such group, the California-based Council for Educational Travel USA, arranged for youths from China, Nigeria, Romania, and other countries to work at the Hershey plant.
“We were disappointed to learn that some of the students were dissatisfied with the cultural exchange element of the program,” said Hershey rep Kirk Saville. “We want to ensure that all the students have a positive experience of this program and leave the United States with an understanding of the Hershey Company.”
Saville said Hershey had asked the plant’s operators to give the students a paid week off so they could see America before returning to their factory jobs. A majority went back to work.
“There’s nothing wrong with paid vacations, but a paid vacation won’t cover up the truth” about how the students were treated, said the director of labor organization National Guestworker Alliance, which helped organize the Hershey walkout.
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