A human rights delegation comprised of professors and practitioners has issued a report calling on federal and state agencies to investigate allegations of abuse of international students employed by the Hershey Company and some of its subcontractors.
The delegation included Colleen P. Breslin of Villanova University School of Law, Tsedeye Gebreselassie of the National Employment Law Project, Stephanie Luce of the Murphy Institute/City University of New York, Beth Lyon of Villanova University School of Law, and University of Pennsylvania Law School Professor Sarah Paoletti. Fran Ansley of the University of Tennessee College of Law and William Quigley of Loyola University New Orleans College of Law contributed to the report.
The delegation heard testimony from students from countries such as China, Turkey, Ukraine, Moldova, Mongolia, Romania, and Poland, alleging that they were misled regarding the living and working conditions they would encounter in the United States’ Summer Student Travel/Work Program. The program, often referred to as the J-1 program, promised students an educational and cultural exchange, plus the opportunity to work in order to earn money to travel.
Students testified that they worked packing in jobs chocolates at punishing speeds under abusive supervision in physically grueling work, and that – after deductions were taken for housing and other employment-related costs – netted them a first week’s salary as low as $20 for the week.
“We are supposed to be here for cultural exchange and education, but we are just cheap laborers,” said Harika Duygu Ozer, 19, a second-year medical student from Turkey.
Students have demanded that Hershey end their use of student workers at the plant and make the jobs living wage jobs for local workers. Students paid $3,000 to $6,000 each to participate in the program and they demand a return of that money.
The group interviewed staff at the National Guestworker Alliance, which has been working with the students, as well as labor union leaders in the region.
Delegates investigated paystubs which showed students were charged $400 per month for housing, despite being made to share small one bedroom apartments with up to five other students who were also charged the same amount.
A student from Poland testified, “I was told this was all average – the wage was average, the housing cost was average. I was shocked when I learned that I was paying so much more than the others for housing.”
The Delegation has issued a report detailing their preliminary findings and call for an in-depth investigation into conditions at the Hershey plant, as well as the J-1 and other guestworker programs.
The report offers recommendations for a response to the Hershey incident, including an immediate suspension of all contracts with the Council for Educational Travel, USA, increased monitoring of J-1 programs and an examination of guestworker programs in general.
The full report is available at https://media.sps.cuny.edu/filestore/8/4/5_8e884ac85f91bb6/845_2d9fd7bdb442b2e.pdf