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Nestle Answers: Outsourcing Accountability in the Chocolate Industry

This is one of a series of posts that features Nestle’s answers to my questions that came out of the Nestle Family event. To access the other questions and answers, go to follow-up questions for Nestle and click on the questions you are interested in. Answers will be posted as they are received and analyzed.


What concrete steps (not pledges signed, groups joined, but action) is Nestle taking to ensure its cocoa is from sources that do not use underage, indentured, trafficked or coerced labor?

Could Nestle currently put a Fair Trade or even a 100% Slave-Free label on its chocolate?

Note: These questions were submitted by Candace from Mamanista.

Nestle's Answer

Nestle, in partnership with the chocolate industry as a whole, has been working to address labor issues on cocoa farms for several years and is committed to finding lasting solutions. While Nestle does not own cocoa farms anywhere in the world, we believe cocoa should be grown responsibly. That is why Nestle has actively participated in the chocolate industry’s efforts to address the issue through steps outlined in the Harkin-Engel Protocol, and is a founding participant of the International Cocoa Initiative and a member of the World Cocoa Foundation. To your point about action, these efforts are action-based, and go well beyond the signing of a pledge. These partnerships are supporting sustainable cocoa farming efforts – and achieving results that have made an increasing, positive impact on farm families in the world’s cocoa regions. For example, check out http://www.cocoainitiative.org to learn about the results of the pilot projects in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. You also can find detailed information at http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org.

Regarding your labeling question, we do not intend to make any changes to our labels at this time.

My Response

I found this answer particularly ironic. Nestle should know better than anyone that simply encouraging others to act appropriately isn't a guarantee that they will. The World Health Organization, the Canadian government, and many other governments that are signatories to the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes actively encourage Nestle and other formula companies to comply with the code. But they don't, unless they are forced to.

This is the same situation with cocoa farmers. They aren't going to suddenly start acting ethically because Nestle and the others members of the chocolate industry form an organization and say "pretty please".

On the International COCOA Initiative's website it says:

The underlying causes of child labour are complex. Factors such as an ignorance of hazards, poor education provision, accepted social cultural norms, economic necessity and outright exploitation are all features. Reflecting this complex mix of causes ICI has adopted a comprehensive programme that:

  • Works at the national level to ensure appropriate and effective policies are in place;

  • Supports capacity building for local partners and institutions;

  • Implements a community based programme to change practices;

  • Supports social protection for victims of exploitation;

  • Shares lessons learned for replication.

This sounds quite similar to what the WHO and others are doing to support breastfeeding in developing countries. Encouraging appropriate and effective policies, supporting capacity, etc. But ultimately, unless someone forces the companies that are exploiting people to change their practices, by limiting their ability to sell their products, their efforts will be futile.

Insisting on Change

Nestle and other chocolate companies need to go beyond policies, capacity building, support and lessons learned. Amy from the Crunchy Domestic Goddess says:
I would think if Nestle refused to buy the cocoa from the cocoa farms that use slave labor, the cocoa farms would have to quickly find another way to grow their cocoa. due to the sheer size and power of nestle, these cocoa farms would lose out on so much money if they didn't comply.

As one of the largest, if not the largest, purchaser of cocoa in the world, Nestle needs to start insisting on decent working conditions and the protection of children. Not just encouraging it. It should be a condition of purchase that is contractually binding and monitored by Nestle.

Americans were appalled when American toy manufacturers were not able to ensure the safety of toys manufactured by their suppliers in China and then sold to American children. Consumers rightfully got mad and insisted that American manufacturers needed to put measures in place to ensure that their products were safe. I think we need to be just as demanding on this issue. Perhaps the safety of our children is not at stake here, but the safety of the children toiling away on cocoa farms in the developing world is.

The label issue

Nestle's answer to the second question is baffling. Candace from Mamanista said:
I wonder if their misunderstanding of my question about the label is intentional--or if they really thought I was suggesting they change the label...perhaps I just was not clear enough.

Their evasive answer prompted a similar and more detailed comment from Michelle from doudoubebe.com. She said:
You specify that Nestle is a signatory to the Harkin-Engel Protocol. A critical part of the protocol is the certification of products – the original deadline for this passed in July 2005 and the three-year extension subsequently passed in July 2008. While public certification does not necessarily require product labelling, it’s difficult to imagine that a company would not chose to make consumers aware of this important feature. Yet, you suggest that there are no plans to change labelling – does this mean there are no plans to follow the international agreements to which you are a signatory?

Let me be clear Nestle. This question is not about whether you choose to change the label. This question is about whether you have lived up to your commitments and whether you could claim that your chocolate is slave-free.

All Talk, No Action?

Is this just another case of using public relations strategies to manufacture consent? Or has Nestle actually taken any real action towards ensuring that its chocolate is slave-free and that children are being protected? Nestle, I'll give you another opportunity to answer the question in case it wasn't clear the first time. What exactly are the concrete steps you have taken on this issue? Could you claim that your chocolate is slave-free?

While I have your attention, if you are concerned about this issue and feel like a full boycott of Nestle is too much, check out the #boonestle Halloween boycott of Nestle's products organized by @that_danielle and @blacktating.
« Nestle Answers: Help rejuvenate the boycott they wish ended 25 years ago | Main | Nestle Answers: Preservatives, Sodium and Stouffer's »

References (1)

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    PhD in Parenting - PhD in Parenting - Nestle Answers: Outsourcing Accountability in the Chocolate Industry

Reader Comments (15)

[...] 14. What concrete steps (not pledges signed, groups joined, but action) is Nestle taking to ensure its cocoa is from sources that do not use underage, indentured, trafficked or coerced labor? ANSWER HERE [...]

I have to say, I am absolutely mystified by their answer. You would think they would be able to point to *one* concrete step they have taken.

As Michelle points out, Nestle has done this before--signing agreements and pointing to these as evidence of change while taking no steps to actually comply.

I agree with Amy, although I would accept an even more conservative approach. Nestle could even simply indicate a willingness to pay slightly more for independently certified slave-free chocolate and thus create a market for it.

I'm not expecting overnight perfection. Let's say Nestle just came clean and said it can verify 1% of its chocolate as being slave free...then the next year that was 2% and the next year 4%...that would show progress.

Because Nestle is directly benefiting from slave labor, it can't simply finance some charity projects. It has to step up and create a market for slave-free labor.

October 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCandace

There are interesting lessons to be learned from how Nestlé is attempting to divert criticism of its cocoa trading practices.

It states: "That is why Nestle has actively participated in the chocolate industry’s efforts to address the issue through steps outlined in the Harkin-Engel Protocol, and is a founding participant of the International Cocoa Initiative and a member of the World Cocoa Foundation."

This protocol was introduced in 2001 with a 5-year programme for companies to ensure that child slavery was eliminated from their cocoa supply chain. Companies did not live up their undertakings and Senator Harkin called a meeting on 18 September 2006 to investigate why. Apparently this was boycott by Nestlé and the other companies.

Now, get this, days later Nestlé sponsored a meeting at the conference of the ruling Labour Party in the UK on the theme of slavery! It wanted to gain kudos from this event at a time it was being criticised in the US for failing to attend the meeting and being taken to court for failing to live up to its commitments.

This is how Nestlé works - investing in PR campaigns so that it can continue with business as usual for as long as possible. Claiming it is taking the initiative and implementing policies, while not delivering changes on the ground unless forced to do so.

Back in 2006 I interviewed the Director of the International Labor Rights Fund for the authoritative information. You can listen to the interview and see how Nestlé slavery PR event went wrong because we were on the case at:

For more on child slavery and child labour in Nestlé's cocoa supply chain visit the chocolate section of:

Nestlé wrote the book on ‘Engineering of Consent’. There is a very good briefing paper on this, with the subtitle “Uncovering PR Strategies” from the Cornerhouse at:

October 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMike Brady

Nestlé does have a Fairtrade mark for Partners' Blend coffee in the UK - it forms a major part of its PR strategy to divert criticism of it driving down prices to coffee farmers - yet involves just 0.1% of the farmers dependent on the company. For information on how it used this token project in a national advertising campaign and the reaction of others involved in the Fair Trade movement, see:

October 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMike Brady

Great job. It is so important to expose the clever marketing strategy used by Nestle and other unethical companies to cover their tracks. Now we just need to create a curriculum for K-12 that builds the critical thinking skills our kids need to guard themselves against the onslaught of advertising and savvy PR. Or would it be cheaper to limit advertising from companies like Nestle, Abbott Laboratories, and Mead Johnson?

October 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBettina

Again, really good comments.

Did Nestlé answer you by mail ? I don't see comments written directly by them for these questions (so much more negative for their brand image and company culture), as opposed to their first reply on sodium content.

I checked out their corporate site and was interested to read :

"Nestlé's Corporate Business Principles and the Code of Business Conduct are our non-negotiable worldwide minimum standards which are observed in addition to complying with locally applicable legislation. While the Corporate Business Principles, which include our commitment to the ten principles of the UN Global Compact, will continue to evolve and adopt to a changing world, they contain our basic foundation unchanged from the origins of our Company. Together with our Management and Leadership Principles, they reflect the basic idea of fairness, honesty and a general concern for people..."

I don't think it's a good idea to give more time to Nestlé to "plan HOW" they could act; it's important to ask them to actually DO something, especially when it doesn't manage to keep its own deadlines such as in the cocoa initiative
(changes to be brought to coffee production by July 2005, then 2008... see ILRF report
http://www.laborrights.org/sites/default/files/publications-and-resources/Cocoa%20Protocol%20Success%20or%20Failure%20June%202008.pdf )

I'd like very much like Nestlé to meet its aims of "Business Integrity" (added as a Business Principle in 2008 ! see last paragraph of same url above :

"At the operational level, CARE is Nestlé's audit program to verify, through independent auditors, that our operations comply with the Corporate Business Principles in the areas of human resources, safety, health and environment. In 2008, a new module on business integrity was added to the program."

But, then, it is only a module... it has taken 140 years to get that included, will it take another 140 to make it a company-wide principle, even maybe implementing it??

I would very much like to see Nestlé publishing its answers to these questions under a clearly "Nestlé-signed" source such as on their corporate website. Nestlé's probably needed some time to get back to these questions because they've had a lot to deal with on the Zimbabwe milk issues on Facebook, too - on the "Nestle" page (of 79,863 fans, there are a number who have voiced criticism and apparently reversed Nestle's decisions on purchasing milk from the Mugabes, as previously mentioned on #nestlefamily).

Sorry, getting side-tracked.

What I would like to see is Nestlé first acting concretely to ensure application of ethical and responsible engagements throughout its operating chain.

I've learnt a lot in the last couple of weeks about the brand. I'll make a last quote for today from their corporate website :

"Nestlé recognizes that its consumers have a sincere and legitimate interest in the behavior, beliefs and actions of the Company behind brands in which they place their trust, and that without its consumers the Company would not exist." (see http://www.nestle.com/AllAbout/AllAboutNestle.htm)

October 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenter@japraker

Nestlé has been taken to court over failing to live up to its undertakings. It boycotted a meeting called by Senator Heskins examining lack of progress, then a few days later sponsored a meeting on ending slavery. It uses initiatives like this as PR cover while continuing business as usual. It needs to be forced by regulations and consumer campaigns to make changes - with more support, we'd achieve even more than we do.

Find out more and listen to an interview with the Director of the International Labor Rights Fund here:

October 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMike Brady

They might as well say "sure, it would be nice, look!!! we are even involved in this group who also think it would be nice, but we are not willing to ask any questions about the working conditions at any of the farms or congloerates that we buy from. Ignorance is bliss and if you can't say that we knowingly bought from a 'bad' farm then we did not!"

It is all about the money! I want suffering-free chocolate please!

October 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNaomi

@japraker: Nestle did answer these questions. I put their answer under the "Nestle's Answer" heading. They sent me this answer in the same e-mail as the one on sodium content and also copied and pasted that e-mail into the comments section of the post with my list of questions. I agree though that this answer seems much more like a form answer than something specifically crafted in response to my question.

October 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

OMG... I cannot believe the BS in this answer you received. Nestle should be deeply ashamed, as should any of the "family" bloggers who defended them. In essence they stated that they encourage the farms to behave ethically and not use slave labor and child labor... they also join groups that "encourage" but that is far as they are willing to go. Why would that be?? I am SURE it must have nothing to do with the fact that if they did lean on these farms or refuse to buy from them they would in fact be forced to comply and that would in the long haul be bad for Nestle and other junk food chocolate companies. The prices would be sure to go up once they actually have to pay living wages and stop employing children. If Nestle candy bars were the same price as the fair trade stuff in the specialty isle why would anyone buy Nestle? They HAVE to keep things cheap to dominate the market and thus they have to make conditions favorable for slave labor on chocolate farms but of course if they talk LOUDLY about how they "encourage" change.. no one with half a brain will be the wiser right? What a ghastly company...

October 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTiffany

I've been wondering lately, maybe we are being too hard on Nestle. Maybe they are making progress and we are not wanting to admit it, BUT then I read things like this and I see we are NOT being too hard on them and they are NOT making progress. Like Candace said, if they could show concrete examples of how they are working to change (even if it's a tiny bit at a time), that would be something, but they can't even do that. It's all smoke and mirrors with Nestle.

Another great post!!

I gave up most "mainstream" chocolate several years ago after listening to a BBC documentary on the cocoa industry. Sad sad sad.

October 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermamasapplecores

I'm glad I found this post, very coincidentally, but I guess a lot of people are talking about this right now. It seems to me that in order for Nestle, or any other company that purchases their cocoa from non-fair trade sources, would have to be willing to take a loss in profits until a change comes about. From everything I've read about Nestle, they only seem to care about the bottom line and not about what is right.

October 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLisa C

I have worked for big companies... we are NOT being too hard on Nestle. It is not hard to run even a large, multi-national company in an ethical way. It truly is "smoke and mirrors" with Nestle!

October 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlina

[...] few chocolate companies come out of this clean, Nestle is often the biggest target because it is one of the largest, if not the largest, buyers of cocoa in the world. If they were to take one step towards reducing slave trade chocolate if could practically change [...]

December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWired For Noise » Is Nes

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