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, 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.
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.