Supply Chain CSR: tracing child labor in growing cocoa beans for chocolates

Just as we get into the holiday mood and enjoy chocolates the focus is on where the cocoa beans come from that go into making chocolate that brings so much holiday cheer to the affluent- worldwide. The BBC Story highlights Nestle's efforts in trying to bring traceability to the labor aspects of the cocoa bean supply chain that is grown and moves through many transactions before reaching the chocolate factory.

Earlier this year Tulane University's Payson Center prepared a report  in March 2011 that suggests that while Ghana has made substantial  progress in curbing child labor in cocoa cultivation there is much more needed to be done in country of  Ivory Coast in West  Africa. It notes that the chocolate industry needs to do more in taking  ownership of the problem. Consequently, Nestle is gearing up to bring traceability of the labor component in the cocoa bean.

This development is remarkable when you think of the traditional technical traceability in supply chains. Wal-Mart likes to put RFID tags on its pallets to keep track of SKU's while individual packages allow the bar codes to keep track of customer check-out pricing. At each point behind the pallets of  goods that arrive at Wal-Mart -including the Nestle Chocolate  and Hershey Chocolate holiday baking ingredients there is really no system of knowing whether child labor was used in the cultivation of the cocoa bean in another country like the Ivory Coast in Africa.

Over ten years ago Nike's use of child labor overseas had become  a major example of managing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the global supply chain in manufacturing. Since then, Nike supply chain managers make sure that they visit supplier factories to confirm that child labor is not employed. There are also controls in this regard on Tier-2 suppliers of say shoe fabrics or parts.

In the agricultural global supply chain the Cocoa bean child labor problem is among the first. With an inter-connected world the mere ability of a social activist to report from Africa via social media puts enormous responsibility on the Chocolate supply chain managers to prove with processes that they are monitoring this CSR variable. While earlier cocoa bean procurement was like simply buying a commodity that required only a quality check now the question is of traceability of the labor content. Challenging work for the global agricultural commodity supply chain managers but indeed  for a worthy cause.

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