“Pleas hellp,” Tudor Ureche, a college student who was participating in the U.S. government’s J-1 visa program, wrote in the email. He added that he was suffering from severe back pain from the work, and that his bosses said his temporary visa would be revoked if he complained.
Ureche never received a response. But two months later, at least 200 foreign exchange students walked out of the Pennsylvania factory in protest, saying they spent thousands of dollars to pay for their cultural exchange visa only to end up in grueling factory jobs. (The factory packed Hershey’s candy, but was operated by a subcontractor.)
The J-1 visa program was designed to give students from overseas a taste of the American way of life during the Cold War. Presumably, our honored guests would go home with a new appreciation of the wonders of manufacturing in this great nation. Well, times have changed. Now, we give students a taste of our current corporate decision making process. Our new welcome for these foreign students is a semi-minimum wage job from which room and board are deducted so they have even less money than when they came!
The J-1 visa program brings foreign students to the country to work for two months and learn English, and was designed in part to fill seasonal tourism jobs at resorts and seaside towns. The 400 students employed at a Pennsylvania factory that packages Hershey’s candies told The New York Times that even though they make $8.35 an hour, their rent and program fees are deducted from their paychecks, leaving them with less money than they spent to get the visas and travel to the country in the first place.
So, our brilliant, innovative and thoroughly patriotic corporate leaders using subcontractors take idealistic, impressionable youth from foreign cultures, uses them for cheap labor, bullying and abusing them in the process, and then sends them home. Wow, so it seems we Americans don’t have enough enemies in the world, we have to manufacture more of them?
Let’s be blunt. If bringing foreign youth here at their own expense and using them for semi-slave labor isn’t illegal, it should be. If this is in anyway, some weird throwback program to the Cold War, it needs to end now.
We Americans have a responsibility to treat our guests with a modicum of respect. Letting corporations, in particular, Hersheys’ sub-contractors do these things is wrong. It’s vile.
It’s bad enough that Americans have to deal with soulless corporate minions on a regular basis. Subjecting would be friends to these people is more than cruel, it is counterproductive.
- Hershey Exchange Student Warnings Were Ignored (nytimes.com)
- Foreign Students Organize Hershey Factory Walkoff (blippitt.com)
- Foreign students walk off Hershey’s factory job (kimberleyvassalinsurance.wordpress.com)
- Protesting Foreign Students At Hershey’s Factory Reject Trip (huffingtonpost.com)
- Foreign students walk off the job at Hershey, claiming exploitation (dailykos.com)
- Op-Ed Contributor: America’s Sweatshop Diplomacy (nytimes.com)
- Hershey’s Exploits Student Workers (campusblueprint.com)
- NYT: Cultural exchange program or cheap labor? (msnbc.msn.com)
- Hershey Walkout Prompts Probe by U.S. State Department (inquisitr.com)
- Disgruntled Hershey Guest Workers Knew What To Expect, Says Non-Profit CEO (huffingtonpost.com)
- Democracy Now: Alleging Captive Labor, Foreign Students Walk Out of Work-Study Program at Hershey Plant (crooksandliars.com)
- You: Foreign Students in Work Visa Program Stage Walkout at Plant (nytimes.com)
- Abuse at Hershey (ynative77.wordpress.com)