A recent inquiry by the Fair Labor Association (FLA) into Nestlé’s cocoa supply chain in the Ivory Coast concluded that children’s safety is put at risk in every phase of cocoa production.
Be it injury from machetes while preparing the land, maintaining the farms, and harvesting the cocoa beans; from physical strain while nursing and planting of seedlings or carrying heavy loads; and from exposure to harmful chemicals while applying fertilizers and pesticides.
Simply put, the treats that kids devour here are a dangerous business for their counterparts in the Ivory Coast who help produce them.
The FLA’s conclusions were based on the findings of independent labor experts who visited seven suppliers, 20 co-ops, and 87 farms where they conducted site observations and interviews. They found that child labor is a pervasive reality on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast.
As someone who has spent considerable time in rural Africa, I will admit that the news that children are involved in agricultural work came as no surprise to me – particularly in a country that has been ravaged by civil war and coups for the last 15 years.
The report acknowledges that the issue of child labor in food production is far larger than Nestlé, but as the world’s largest food company Nestlé’s actions have a disproportionate effect and are perpetuating this sad story with every ounce of cocoa they buy. Given the sheer volume of its production, this could be good news if Nestlé commits to changing the current picture; the company alone could have a significant positive influence not just on the lives of its laborers, but on the labor practices in the Ivory Coast as a whole.
Nestlé has been quite involved and open throughout this study. The company became one of the first in the food industry to partner with the FLA, opening up their supply chain for inspection. Following the study, Nestlé responded to the report, acknowledging the accuracy of the findings and pledging immediate action in align with the FLA’s recommendations.
I’m a bit torn as to what to do in response to the FLA’s report. On the one hand, Nestlé should be commended for their openness and willingness to partner with FLA, knowing full well that it would expose the very worst of their offenses to mainstream media and ultimately, their customers. Meanwhile, other corporate giants like Ikea, are doing everything they can to hide the ugliness buried deep in their supply chain.
On the other hand, Nestlé is clearly perpetuating and supporting child labor, making me keen to just avoid their products all together.
After a lot of consideration, I still think Nestlé should be commended for their transparency. That said, it's also time to call on Nestlé to produce a fairtrade chocolate bar.
Cadbury, a competitor owned by Kraft, launched their first fairtrade chocolate bar in 2009 – the only chocolate bar that I’ll grab off a convenience store shelf.
Adopting Fair Trade would be an important step for Nestlé demonstrating that they are committed not just to rectifying the situation, but also to maintaining their commitment to transparency.
What about you? Will choose to shop or boycott Nestlé in light of the report?