Hershey’s has a crisis. It erupted Thursday. Since then over 600 articles about it have appeared online, including this New York Times editorial. It is a legal quagmire that no one appears to want to take responsibility for.
Background: A group of international college students came to the U.S. this summer for a cultural/work experience. The State Department arranged it. They paid up to $6000 for the opportunity to work and travel here during their summer off from engineering, medical and other foreign universities.
Coming at a time when the U.S. faces an economic crisis of its own, the summer job many got was sweat shifts at a Hershey vendor’s plant for wages of $7.25 to $8.35 an hour. Disturbed by the labor conditions and encouraged by local labor leaders, they staged a public protest now heard around the world.
Six hundred articles and one New York Times editorial later, Hershey’s has said little except that the responsibility lies with their vendor.
Hershey’s has deep reservoirs of reputation capital: goodwill and brand loyalty from millions of multi-generational Americans. Historically, long-established companies with excellent reputations have been able to withstand such crises. Toyota did, after a 2009 recall created a massive reputation crisis for the company. (This Harvard Business Review study explains how.)
Hershey’s needs to demonstrate leadership — and concern for the students’ complaints. The longer it waits to address the crisis, the worse it will get. Whether or not Hershey’s was directly responsible doesn’t excuse the company from stepping forward and taking steps to rectify a situation that never should have happened in the first place.