A lot of people like to say that police officers deserve a good salary and cultural respect because they “risk their lives” every day. As a deadly pandemic rages on, filling the air with viral poison, retail workers are risking their lives every day now, too. 

There was no reason to expect retailer staff to sell candy for poverty wages before COVID-19, but there’s even less of a reason now. In March 2020, we called them essential. Now, two years later — despite currently averaging a record 677,000 new COVID cases every day — the tone has shifted.

Retailers have phased out the often meager hazard pay employees had been receiving during the pandemic. Many customer service workers are burned out as they are forced to deal with overly demanding customers taking out their pandemic rage on store staff. And as staff shortages continue, the workers who remain are often forced to carry the extra workload left behind.

Like it or not, this extends to the confectionery industry. The people working those jobs are just as much a part of the supply chain as the cocoa farmers at the beginning. 

There’s a running theory that if the confectionery industry refuses to address the problems cocoa farmers face, eventually there just won’t be anyone willing to work as a cocoa farmer. The same is true for retail employees. 

The latest jobs report showed that 4.5 million people had left or changed jobs in November. And over the summer, VOX reported that 650,000 retail workers had quit their jobs in April 2021. 

Candy manufacturers ignore this at their peril. 

It feels relevant to mention that my first-ever job was as a grocery store cashier. I started the job two weeks after my 16th birthday and continued all the way through undergrad. So I know first-hand that these jobs are anything but “low-skill.” They are exhausting, both mentally and physically. The hours are long, the work is demanding, and the customers are often horrible. 

The jobs also are often the main source of income for employees and their family — as was the case for my mom after my dad left when I was 13. She worked herself to the bone trying to make ends meet for her family, which included me and my two brothers. She put in long hours at her store, only to run out of money to buy the very groceries her employer sold. 

It was that upbringing that showed me just how much respect — and pay — retail workers really deserve. 

I would guess that a lot of candy companies feel powerless to change working conditions for retail employees, but that’s the same thinking the industry used to have about cocoa farmers. And in the last decade, they have proven just how much power they do have over people working anywhere in the candy supply chain.

I also would  guess is that manufacturers worry that if retail staff are paid more, end-sale prices will rise and consumers might be less willing to purchase their products. It’s an argument I never hear when massive retailers announce increases to executive pay and benefits, though. However, even if it is an issue, there’s something else that would be even worse for candy sales — stores closing completely. Many retailers are already responding to staff shortages by reducing store hours, which means zero candy sales are being made during that time. 

It’s past time for the confectionery industry to put a focus on the people who literally stand between your candy and the consumer. All of the staff that makes retail function are more vital than ever. From the Walmart cashiers, to the Amazon delivery drivers and the c-store attendants. If it wasn’t obvious before, it is now — these employees need a living wage, paid sick time, health insurance, free childcare, and the same respect as the employees working at corporate. And they need you to help them fight for it.