Welcome to Duty Calls. This regular feature aims to shine the light on some of the most laudable examples of altruism and sustainability within the travel retail industry by companies that go beyond the call of duty.

Over a century ago in a small town in Pennsylvania in the USA, a social purpose enterprise was created, producing chocolate that is now sold in duty free shops around the world. The pioneering social entrepreneur Milton Hershey created a selfless empire around the principle of “doing well by doing good”.

When you hear the name Hershey, you automatically think of chocolate bars made in America for Americans.  Most Americans would know they are made in the town of Hershey, Pennsylvania. A lesser-known fact is that the chocolate is not named after the town of Hershey; the town is named after the founder of the Hershey chocolate company, Milton S. Hershey.

Retired company veteran Jim George is Founder & President of the All About Hershey consultancy.

On a visit to the company headquarters organised by Hershey’s General Manager, World Travel Retail Steve Bentz, I was welcomed by retired company veteran Jim George, Founder & President of the All About Hershey consultancy, who is an encyclopedia on the company history and heritage, as well as Sustainability and CSR Sr. Director Jeff King and Suzanne Jones, Vice President of The Hershey Experience, which operates the company’s retail stores.

Formerly known as Derry Church, Pennsylvania, Hershey is now commonly known as “The sweetest place on earth”. When arriving by car, the first sight to greet visitors is the original factory building, with its tall chimneys, emblazoned with The Hershey Company name. It quickly becomes apparent that the entire city is centred around the brand: the Milton Hershey School, the Hotel Hershey, Hershey’s Chocolate World, The Hershey Story Museum … even the street lights are shaped in the form of Hershey’s Kisses.

This focus on the brand and the company is not only because much of the town’s land holdings are owned and operated by the Hershey related businesses and trust, but also as a tribute to the man and his legacy.

Tall chimneys emblazoned with The Hershey Company name greet visitors to “The sweetest place on earth”.

Hershey’s CSR projects, as related by Jeff King, encompass a variety of activities both at home and abroad; across environmental initiatives, work on growing sustainable cocoa and farmer livelihood programmes in sourcing markets, and company employee and community support initiatives.

Indeed, The Hershey Company has been built on philanthropy and a social economy model from its very foundation.

When Milton Hershey opened his original chocolate manufacturing plant in 1905, Jim George explains, he set out his pioneering vision from the start to operate a clean, green and healthy business. The actual origin of the company dates back several years earlier to 1894, and a full history can be found at the Hershey Archives website: https://hersheyarchives.org.

In the late 1800s, during the industrial revolution, Milton Hershey had already launched several unsuccessful businesses and by the age of 30 had been bankrupt twice.

But with the successful launch of The Lancaster Caramel Company, from which he would create The Hershey Chocolate Company, he was determined to operate the business as a social purpose enterprise, focusing on corporate social responsibility decades before the term was even coined. He centred his strategy for the company on helping its employees, the local community, children from underprivileged backgrounds and people in need generally.

Hershey street lights are shaped in the form of Hershey’s Kisses.

While other entrepreneurs of the time were living lavish lifestyles and enjoying their gains, Milton Hershey focused on building a model town for his employees.  Where before there were no public services available to the townspeople, from 1905 Milton Hershey set about building affordable housing for his employees, as well as waterworks, a transport system, an education system and schools.

George explains how Hershey laid the foundations for his legacy in funding education for the underprivileged over a century ago. In 1909, he and his wife Catherine [or Kitty, as she was known], founded the Hershey Industrial School for orphan boys. She passed away prematurely in 1915,  George explains, and three years later, Milton Hershey decided not to wait until his death to pass on his fortune. So he established a trust fund and donated his entire estate to the school, setting up the Milton Hershey School Trust.

The Trust became the owner and beneficiary not only of the Hershey Chocolate Company, but also of all his other assets and non-chocolate related businesses, including extensive land around the town, utility companies and foreign holding companies. The donation did not become public knowledge until five years later.

Hershey chocolate company founder Milton S. Hershey. Photo: mhskids.org.

Today the school continues to thrive, providing education and a family environment to over 2,000 pupils each year, all from underprivileged backgrounds. The school’s annual budget is financed solely from the company dividends, as well as profits from other divisions of the Hershey Trust Company entities.

They do not receive donations from other companies, institutions or individuals and on enquiring how you can support the school, the reply is consistently friendly: “buy a Hershey’s bar”.

Milton Hershey passed away in 1945 aged 88 without any children, but his legacy lives on and the socially-conscious businesses continue to thrive. In the 1970s girls were admitted to the school, which plans to grow from the current 2,100 students to 2,300 in the next few years.

The students come from across the USA, from homes of social and financial needs. The children live together in houses with between eight and 12 children of the same gender and similar age group. The caregivers are full-time employees of Milton Hershey School, employed as “houseparents”, to look after their extended family before and after school and maintain the household during the daytime.

Brandy and Adam Powell pictured in front of their Hershey memorabilia cabinet at their home.

Brandy and Adam Powell, for example, are caregivers to nine girls aged between 8 and 12. The girls all live with the Powells and their two children as one family. They eat together, help each other with homework and assist with the household chores. The girls sleep in bedrooms two by two and the family has their own quarters in the house provided by the school. Each day the houseparents drop off and pick up the children from Milton Hershey School, just like regular parents. The children are provided with food, clothes, medical care, dental care and more importantly, respect, support and love.

The Milton Hershey School Campus. Photo: mhskids.org.

One of the most remarkable stories, explains Jim George, is the US$50 million phone call and the origin of the Milton S Hershey Medical Center of Penn State University. It has left a profound and lasting impact on the city.

In the early 1960s, when business was booming, the Hershey Trust management at the time was faced with the dilemma of having too many funds to plough back into the School Trust and associated organisations.  The then CEO at The Hershey Trust Company phoned the President of Penn State University and asked how much they would need to launch a medical faculty. The deal was agreed to and the Hershey Trust pledged the required funds on the condition that the school be named after Milton Hershey and that it be based in Hershey, Pennsylvania, itself.  The donation was a one-time only pledge and the medical centre, which serves the surrounding community, is now self-sustaining.

Hershey’s CSR commitments are not restricted to Hershey itself. Sustainability and CSR Director Jeff King says the company aims to engage employees and consumers, with clear KPIs for both groups as well as with the beneficiary projects.

The role of Sustainability and CSR Director for a company founded as a social purpose-driven organisation with CSR at its very core is no easy task. King has successfully carried the torch, launching Hershey’s ‘Shared Goodness Promise’ around four key areas.

These include Shared Futures, investing in children, their future success and a healthy diet; as well as Shared Planet, which focuses on the company’s carbon footprint, both in terms of manufacturing emissions and waste management, as well as the impact of its cocoa sourcing on the environment.

The Hershey Shared Goodness Promise (click to enlarge).

A third area, Shared Business, focuses on sustainability, transparency and purpose driven business through partnerships, whether in the consumer market or source markets. Finally, in Shared Communities, The Hershey Company invests in its employees, nurturing a volunteer culture and ensuring all who live and work in the community are looked after.

The company’s employees dedicate more than 130,000 hours per year to volunteer work – a policy that is not imposed, but widely practiced by staff, who all seem to share the Hershey philanthropic DNA.

One of the most recent projects is ‘Nourishing Minds’, which embodies all aspects of the Hershey Shared Goodness Promise ethic. In countries such as Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana where Hershey sources its biggest raw material, cocoa beans, there are severe nutrition challenges for children.

In 2015, King set about addressing the issue by developing ViVi, a nutritional snack made from local peanuts, which helps provide children with their daily nutritional requirements. The Hershey Company supplies over 50,000 children with the vitamin fortified peanut butter ViVi snack, not just as a one-off gift, but once every day. The supplement snack provides children with 30% of their daily vitamin requirement and has helped reduce anaemia by 43% in Ghana, according to King.

The project, which is part of the Hershey ‘Cocoa For Good’ programme, also helps sustain local communities as the company works with more than 7,500 local farmers to source peanuts for the snack. The product is not commercialised anywhere; it is a pure philanthropic product provided at no cost by Hershey.  The company’s Nourishing Minds programme also operates in the US through ‘Feeding America’, where one in five children are reported to be “food insecure”.

Cocoa For Good aims to tackle poverty issues, create more eco-friendly farming methods as part of the company’s responsible sourcing programme, and support young adults at risk through education programmes. Together with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other NGOs, Hershey has begun investing in the futures of its farmworkers through business skills and farming diversification training.

Taking the long-term view: Sustainability & CSR Director Jeff King.

Hershey’s Cocoa For Good programme has so far trained more than 49,000 farmers in good agricultural practice and how to generate income in alternative ways once the cocoa-growing season has ended. Other community-based life skills programmes are aimed at helping the cocoa-growing communities to become more autonomous and self-sustainable.

The Hershey Company’s philanthropic work is extensive, both in terms of funding and geographically, with projects across China and Africa as well as closer to home in Canada. Multi-million dollar donations are made each year to causes ranging from child welfare and education to women’s empowerment as well as long-term investments in sustainable farming.

Goodness, service to others and shared happiness are the values which are omnipresent across the company’s projects and people, best expressed by its founder with the words: “The value of our good is not measured by what it does, but by the amount of good it does to the one concerned.”