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Student organizations respond to We controversy

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Photo C/O Free The Children McMaster

By: Balsam Fasih

An investigative article published by Canadaland on Oct. 15 alleges that the WE Charity has partnerships with at least three corporations that use child labour, including Hershey’s, Kellogg’s and Unilever.

While it is not explicit in Canadaland’s investigation, it appears that their claim that Hershey’s uses child labour stems from a 2015 lawsuit filed by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP. This lawsuit accuses Hershey’s of using cocoa beans from West African suppliers that use child labour.

In Nov. 2016, Amnesty International published a report that reveals that Kellogg’s and Unilever obtain palm oil from Wilmar International Ltd. Amnesty International investigated some of Wilmar’s plantations and discovered several human rights abuses, including the use of child labour.

“The Kellogg Company (Kellogg’s), Nestlé and Reckitt Benckiser are sourcing palm oil from refineries where the palm oil has been directly supplied or, at the very least, been mixed with palm oil produced on plantations where there are severe labour rights abuses,” reads the Amnesty International report.

The report suggests it is “highly likely” that Unilever uses palm oil from plantations where there are labour rights abuses.

The We charity logo has been used to promote some of these companies’ products. Included in the Canadaland report is an image of a Hershey’s chocolate display at a Walgreens store.

The display features an image of a smiling African child, the Me to We logo and the phrase “Together with Hershey’s, Walgreens helps children here and everywhere.”

The specific Walgreens locations where such displays were found is not mentioned in the report. However, Canadaland linked the display to a 2018 brand cause campaign for Hershey’s via the Me to We ‘Track Your Impact’ website.

Adriana Skaljin and Krupali Shah, co-presidents of Free the Children McMaster, maintain that their club does not work with any of We’s corporate partners. Instead, the club focuses on contributing to the Hamilton community and supporting education initiatives in India.

 

The co-presidents raise concerns about the Canadaland report’s sources and credibility and believe that the issue must be further investigated.

“I definitely see the need to explore this issue more and gather details on the partnerships from credible sources. Until that is done, however, I do not think we can discredit any work done by We charity and its association thus far,” said Shah.

Both Skaljin and Shah state that their involvement with We has had a positive impact on their lives.

“As someone who felt like just a small person in a world of possibility for change, We Charity empowered me to believe in my capability for making a difference,” said Skaljin.

As for the McMaster Students Union clubs department’s take on the controversy, MSU clubs administrator Josephine Liauw says that clubs are prohibited from using their financial allocation to make direct donations to any third party, including charities.

“Individual clubs are at liberty to manage their respective relationships with external organizations as they see fit, provided that all club conduct is governed by their respective constitution and remains in compliance with the Clubs Operating Policy,” said Liauw.

In response to the accusations, We served Canadaland with a notice of libel. The notice announces We’s intent to pursue legal action against Canadaland for defamation.

We accuses the news organization of using an altered image of a Kellogg’s cereal box featuring the Me to We logo as evidence of We’s partnership with Kellogg’s, which We calls a “non-existent partnership,” in addition to using unnamed sources in the report.

The organization is also demanding the retraction of the article and asks that any questions about the case be directed to info@we.org.

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