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Safety violations at chocolate factory: consequences not sweet

In our March 6 post, we wrote about safety violations at a Pennsylvania factory that produced Hershey's chocolates. This week, there was another development in that story.

Yesterday the U.S. Labor Department announced an agreement with the company that operated the plant. Exel, Inc, an Ohio-based company, will pay $143,000 in penalties for workplace safety violations. The violations involved excessive noise and failure to maintain proper documentation of workplace injuries in Pennsylvania.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration had investigated the factory in Palmyra, Pennsylvania, after receiving reports of injured workers. The injuries included being hit by falling boxes and cuts from cardboard.

The complaint that prompted the investigation had come from the National Guestworker Alliance on behalf of foreign students who worked at the factory in the summer of 2011. A staffing company, SHS Staffing Solutions of Lemoyne, Pa, had placed the foreign students there.

In a separate settlement yesterday, Exel, SHS and a third group, the Council for Education Travel-USA, agreed to terms with the Labor Department on back wages for the foreign students who worked at the Palmyra plant. The three organizations will pay $213,000 in back wages for the foreign students who worked in what arguably were abusive conditions at the chocolate factory.

Hersey's was not involved in the settlement, however, because it did not operate the plant. Exel did so under contract with Hershey.

In yet another consequence in the case, the State Department revoked the Council for Educational Travel's status as a program sponsor for foreign students. The Council was accused of forcing the foreign students to do unexpectedly onerous and dangerous factory work.

Source: "Washington: Foreign Students Will Get Back Pay for Factory Work," New York Times, Steven Greenhouse, 11-14-12

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