In an August 17, 2011, letter to the U.S. Department of State filed on behalf of more than 400 foreign guestworkers recruited by the Council for Educational Travel, USA (CETUSA) to work for the Hershey Chocolate Co., the National Guestworker Alliance seeks the revocation of CETUSA’s sponsor status as a provider of J-1 visas, which allow foreign students to enter the United States for work, training and internships. According to the Alliance, the university students recruited to work for Hershey paid $3,000-$6,000 in pre-employment expenses and expected to receive wages and benefits comparable to U.S. workers and be provided with educational and cultural opportunities. Instead, they were paid $7.85 to $8.35 per hour, but after automatic weekly deductions for “abovemarket rent and other expenses, they net[ted] between $40 and $140 per week for 40 hours of work.” They were apparently “offered no cultural exchange of any kind.”
Some of the students were reportedly forced to lift heavy loads while packing chocolate products in boxes. While moving 50-pound boxes every five seconds, “[n]umerous workers are suffering under the strain of the weight and speed. Workers who have been at the factory longer have reported that the company normally runs the line at a slower speed, but are forcing the students to work faster and that the students are exceeding normal production standards.” In response to complaints about their wages and working conditions, the student workers were allegedly forced to attend meetings at which they were threatened with deportation, and their families were contacted. The Alliance cites a number of labor laws CETUSA has allegedly violated to support its call for an investigation into the complaints, a suspension of CETUSA’s sponsorship designation and a prohibition on future J-1 student employment by the Hershey Co.