hershey brandsDespite rigorous efforts to improve sustainability efforts, Hershey again is facing criticism for alleged child labor violations by cocoa suppliers.

The Pennsylvania-based chocolate maker is being sued in Delaware Chancery Court by one of its shareholders, the Louisiana Municipal Police Employees’ Retirement System.

The suit claims that Hershey and its board of directors have long known of the company’s dealings with West African suppliers who were violating human rights as part of their cocoa harvests, including human trafficking and slave labor, states the group’s law firm, Grant & Eisenhofer.

The goal of the suit is to compel Hershey to make its corporate records open to shareholder inspection.  

“That one of the world’s leading confectioners — whose primary market is children — could exploit child laborers to meet its bottom line is an outrage,” says Jay Eisenhofer, the law firm’s co-managing director. “Rather than open its records to scrutiny, Hershey, over the past decade, has thrown up multiple roadblocks to reasonable examination of its conduct... in its supply chain.”

Hershey declined to comment on the pending litigation, but did reiterate the efforts they’ve made recently to improve their supply chain.

Most notably, the company joined Mars in pledging to use 100% sustainable cocoa by 2020. Also, in early 2012, Hershey announced a $10-million commitment to cocoa sustainability programs in West Africa.

“The Hershey Company takes its commitment to responsible sourcing very seriously and has been supporting cocoa-growing communities for more than 50 years,” says Jeff Beckman, a Hershey spokesman.

According to information on its website, Grant & Eisenhofer, specializes in complex class actions, securities, corporate governance, false claims, antitrust and bankruptcy litigation.

The Hershey Co., has operations throughout the world and approximately 14,000 employees. With revenues of more than $6 billion, Hershey offers confectionery products under more than 80 brand names.