Taiwan's Fu Wan chocolate products boycotted over sexual harassment scandal

Fu Wan Chocolate is known for its locally produced chocolates that have won awards in many international competitions. PHOTO: FU WAN CHOCOLATE/INSTAGRAM

TAIPEI - Since early December, six retailers have pulled products by Fu Wan Chocolate from their shelves and stopped collaborations with the Taiwanese chocolate company, after an Internet user posted online details of a five-year-old sexual harassment case involving the company's former chairman and an intern.

The intern, who worked at Fu Wan in 2015, had accused then chairman Hsu Feng-chia of sexually harassing her at work, resulting in Mr Hsu being handed a six-month jail sentence - time that was later commuted to a fine.

He was also removed from his position the same year.

The Internet user posted details of the crime in November on Taiwan's Dcard forum, the local equivalent of Reddit, and prompted many consumers to stop buying Fu Wan products. Several food manufacturers also cut off collaborations with the company.

Based in southern Taiwan, Fu Wan Chocolate is known for its locally produced chocolates that have won awards in many international competitions.

Within a week of the Dcard post, the consumer backlash caused major food manufacturers Laurel Corp and Kuai Kuai to recall products they each made using Fu Wan Chocolate. They also announced that they would donate proceeds from previous sales of these products to charity.

Japanese donut chain Mister Donut also stopped selling products containing Fu Wan chocolate, and French hypermarket chain Carrefour removed all Fu Wan's chocolate bars from its stores in Taiwan.

But lawmakers and gender equality experts think more can be done.

Ms Fan Yun, a ruling Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker, led a press conference on Dec 17 calling for the labour ministry to amend gender equality laws to give employees more protection in cases of sexual harassment at work.

Ms Fan and fellow lawmaker Hung Sun-han said Taiwan's current Gender Equality in Employment Act discourages victims of sexual harassment from filing complaints if the perpetrator is their employer, as the law requires companies to investigate complaints themselves before further action is taken.

Mr Cho Keng-yu, who is on the board of the education ministry's Gender Equity Education Committee, noted that a company investigation would have a muzzling effect.

"In the majority of Taiwan's workplace sexual harassment cases, victims are reluctant to speak out, as they fear losing their jobs," said Mr Cho, who has also provided counselling for employers accused of molesting their employees.

To remedy the situation, lawmakers are proposing an amendment that would instead allow victims to approach local authorities if their employer or supervisor is the perpetrator.

Ms Huang Yi-ling, the executive director of the Taiwan Occupational Safety and Health Link, echoed Mr Cho's views.

"The law asks the companies to come up with a solution with the victims. A case is brought to the authorities' attention and recorded in the government's data only when it doesn't get resolved within the company," noted Ms Huang.

This means that government data on sexual harassment cases are not accurate, and may not reflect an increasing number of victims in Taiwan taking action against their harassers as the #MeToo movement spreads in Asia.

According to Ms Fan, Fu Wan Chocolate is the first company to face a boycott of its products due to sexual harassment within the company.

But while the boycott action has gained traction, Ms Huang said the public forgets such issues quickly.

She said there should be monitoring of a company's culture to ensure the work environment is safe for employees.

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