J-1 student guest workers protest working conditions (Justice at Hershey's), United States, 2011


End Hershey’s exploitation of student guest workers
, give living wage jobs to local workers, a return of the $3,000 to $6,000 each student paid for the cultural exchange program to work at Hershey

Time period

August, 2011 to November, 2011


United States

Location City/State/Province

Palmyra, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York City

Location Description

In streets, on Hershey's company property
Jump to case narrative

Methods in 4th segment

Methods in 5th segment

Segment Length

2 weeks

Notes on Methods

The active protesting for the Justice at Hershey's was in the Fall/Winter of 2011 but the goals of the campaign weren't met until government reforms were put in place in May 2012


Student leaders (Tudor Ureche, Godwin Efobi, Ignacio Torres Sibaja)


Rick Bloomingdale (PA AFL-CIO union President), Saket Soni (executive director of the National Guestworker Alliance), USAS

External allies

The US government (investigated and penalized Hershey's sub-contractors)

Involvement of social elites

Not known


The Hershey Company, Exel North American Logistics Inc., SHS Onsite Solutions, CETUSA

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not known

Campaigner violence

None known

Repressive Violence

Arrests of 3 union officials


Economic Justice



Group characterization

union members
International students
National Guestworkers Association members

Groups in 1st Segment

J-1 students
AFL-CIO union members
NGA members

Groups in 3rd Segment

United Students Against Sweatshops members

Segment Length

2 weeks

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

5 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

9 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

It is not clear that students were ever properly compensated for their work or returned their program fees.

Database Narrative

In 1961 the United States government created the J-1 exchange visa program that allows for people, including students from other countries, to visit the USA for cultural immersion and work-study. In what is typically a four-month program, thousands of students come to the USA and go to work in jobs provided for them by contractors of the visa program. The program has been critiqued in the past for failing to provide adequate cultural immersion and for using contractors that provide visa holders with poor work placement.

In June of 2011, some 400 students from all over the world were sent to work at a Hershey’s packing plant in Palmyra, Pennsylvania. These guest worker jobs were procured by the Council for Educational Travel, USA (CETUSA), a company that has worked with the J-1 program in the past and been critiqued for its treatment of guest workers. At the plant, the students lifted heavy boxes and were in uncomfortable working conditions. The plant operated faster than it normally would, forcing the students to work extremely hard and students discovered that their wages were being severely cut to pay for housing and program fees. Some students made a net total of less than $100/week.

The students paid between $3,000 and $6,000 for their visas and program fees and had been told that they would earn enough through work to make a profit by the end of the program. They claimed that they were deceived and dissatisfied with the cramped housing conditions they had to live in and the lack of contact with Americans and US culture.

They began to express dissatisfaction with their working conditions and met with local union leaders of the AFL-CIO. Shortly afterwards, the plant held “captive meetings” where the managers told the students that if they continued to organize they would face deportation, dismissal and/or other measures. The students continued the meetings and allied with the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA), set up to protect guest workers from exploitation.

On August 17, 2011, the students along with AFL-CIO and NGA members held a walk out of the factory followed by a sit-in on company grounds, where they protested the unfair and hazardous working conditions and below minimum wage pay. Police arrested three union officials. The following day similar protests were held. Some students did not participate in the protests, though their petition did have over 300 signatures. The protesting students were dismissed from the factory.

Their campaign gathered lots of media attention and support for their demands:  ending Hershey’s exploitation of J-1 guest workers, giving the jobs to American citizens and (later) demanding a return of the $3,000 - $6,000 they had spent to get to the USA but been unable to earn back.

Their protests continued and spread to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York City, including a protest in front of Hershey’s building in Times Square on August 31. The campaign gained lots of national supporters, and on September 7, students presented a 67,000-signature petition and a report from the Human Rights Commission to Hershey executives, both of which were ignored. On September 23, the 400 students and 1,000 Americans from labor and activist groups and unions rallied outside of the packing plant in Palmyra.

Hershey’s did not respond directly to the complaints but instead claimed that the packing plant supervisors, Exel North American Logistics Inc., was responsible for the plant’s management and that SHS Onsite Solutions and CETUSA had hired the students.

The protests continued as the students and activists protested outside of Hershey’s building in New York City again on Halloween, and the next day activists from United Students Against Sweatshops from various schools participated in rallies outside of CVS stores, petitioning management not to buy Hershey’s products.

The protests immediately got the attention of national authorities and several investigations ensued. In February of 2012, the Department of Labor penalized Exel and SHS for violating safety and health laws. That same month, CETUSA was removed as a J-1 recruiter on the grounds that it had threatened students and was not paying them their full earnings.

In May of 2012, the J-1 Summer Work Travel program modified its criteria to prevent student worker exploitation, disallowing students to work in a variety of fields considered dangerous and emphasizing cultural exchange.



"Abc27 WHTMHershey Vendor: No More Foreign Students at Palmyra Plant." Hershey Vendor: No More Foreign Students at Palmyra Plant. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2012. <http://www.abc27.com/story/15294418/international-students-continue-protest-in-hershey>.

"Category: Justice at Hershey'€™s." Justice at Hershey'€™s. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2012. <http://www.guestworkeralliance.org/category/justice-at-hersheys-2/>.

"Department of State Investigating Protest by SWT Students in PA | Alliance Exchange." Department of State Investigating Protest by SWT Students in PA | Alliance Exchange. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2012. <http://www.alliance-exchange.org/policy-monitor/08/19/2011/department-state-investigating-protest-swt-students-pa>.

"The Economic Policy Institute." Hershey Co. Strike Highlights Abuses in the J-1 Program. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2012. <http://www.epi.org/publication/hershey_co-_strike_highlights_abuses_in_the_j-1_program>.

Jamieson, Dave. "Student Guestworkers At Hershey Plant Allege Exploitative Conditions." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 17 Aug. 2011. Web. 14 Oct. 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/17/student-guestworkers-at-hershey-plant_n_930014.html>.

"Justice at Hershey’s: International Students Say NO to PA Sweatshop." Justice at Hershey’s: International Students Say NO to PA Sweatshop. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2012. <http://www.ragingchickenpress.org/2011/09/12/justice-at-hersheys-international-students-say-no-to-pa-sweatshop/>.

Preston, Julia. "Foreign Students in Work Visa Program Stage Walkout at Plant." The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 Aug. 2011. Web. 14 Oct. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/18/us/18immig.html?pagewanted=all>.

"Student Workers Protest at Hershey's, Say Their Life Not so Sweet." - Latimes.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2012. <http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/nationnow/2011/08/students-protest-at-hersheys-packing-plant.html>.

"Unions Demand Justice from Hershey for Exploited Student Workers." BCTGM. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2012. <http://bctgm.org/2011/10/unions-demand-justice-from-hershey-for-exploited-student-workers/>.

"USAS Protests Hershey Company on Basis of Student Mistreatment." - The Daily Collegian Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2012. <http://www.collegian.psu.edu/archive/2011/11/01/students_protest_sweatshops.aspx>.

Additional Notes

The National Guestworker Alliance documented the Justice at Hershey's very extensively and ran a Youtube campaign for it as well. This can be found at http://www.guestworkeralliance.org/category/justice-at-hersheys-2/

There is also another Justice at Hershey's campaign that deals with protests against Hershey's for allegations of discrimination against people with HIV

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Christopher Capron, 14/10/2012