Love may be priceless, but not all Valentine’s Day gifts are created equal. With a union, the workers who make them can bargain for decent wages and working conditions; without one, not so much. The good news is that consumers who care about humane working conditions can buy candies and chocolates made by workers represented by a union — Bakery Confectionery Tobacco and Grain Millers (BCTGM).
One of the oldest and best-known Valentine’s candies — pastel sugar hearts with quirky sayings — is made by members of BCTGM Local 348 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The so-called Sweethearts, made by New England Confectionery Company (NECCO) since 1902, are also the nation’s top-selling Valentine’s candy. Just be sure to look for the Sweethearts brand; otherwise the pastel hearts you’re buying are imitators made by nonunion competitors.
Three national brands sell Valentine’s candies manufactured by members of BCTGM Local 125 in the San Francisco Bay area: Ghiradelli Chocolate Company sells Valentine’s Day chocolates in tins, boxes and packs; See’s Candies sells Valentine heart boxes with hard, soft and nut chocolate candies; and Jelly Belly Candy Company sells Valentine’s Day gift boxes, tins, and packs.
But the tradition of the dozen red roses, sad to say, is tricky from the standpoint of worker rights. Most cut flowers sold in the United States are grown in Colombia and Ecuador by workers — mostly female — who are exposed to unhealthy pesticides, paid poverty level wages of about $8.25 a day, and forced to work long hours in the period leading up to Valentine’s Day. Colombian flower worker unions aren’t asking U.S. consumers to boycott their products, says Steven Coats, executive director of U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project (US/LEAP) — a union-supported worker justice group. But there are no certification systems in place to tell consumers that flowers were produced by workers treated humanely.
Meanwhile, the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) is urging the public to take a stand — on Valentine’s Day — against forced labor and child labor in the West African cocoa industry. Most major chocolate companies have committed to using independent, third-party programs to certify that their cocoa suppliers comply with international labor standards, ILRF says. But Hershey continues to lag behind the industry. ILRF is asking supporters to send a “Valentine” card to Hershey CEO David West, and to watch or host a screening of “The Dark Side of Chocolate,” a documentary exposé available online for a $6 suggested donation. Visit laborrights.org to take part in the campaign.
Some Hershey’s Kisses and other Hershey’s chocolates are still made by members of BCTGM Local 464 in Hershey, Pennsylvania. But increasingly, the company’s products are made in Mexico or in nonunion plants in the United States, says BCTGM spokesperson Corrina Christensen.
The same goes for Nestlé Chocolate, which makes some products at BCTGM-represented factories in Illinois, but others at nonunion facilities and in Mexico.