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Big Chocolate: Child Slavery in the Cocoa Industry

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Dick Marty was a Swiss Parliamentarian and former state prosecutor. In 2015, Marty led the Swiss Coalition for Corporate Justice (SCCJ), an alliance of Switzerland-based NGOs, in launching the Responsible Business Initiative (RBI) campaign. The proposed initiative aimed to introduce legal requirements for companies to undertake human rights and environmental due diligence under the Federal Constitution. If passed, corporations based in Switzerland could face legal risks for violations committed abroad.

Numerous large corporations adamantly opposed the RBI, including Swiss cocoa giant Nestlé. The company had been at the center of multiple lawsuits and investigations, accused of aiding and abetting the enslavement of child laborers on cocoa plantations in West African countries since the 1990s. Yet, despite multiple efforts to reform Nestlé’s supply chain, the child slavery problem persisted.

In November 2020, the RBI was narrowly rejected in a national referendum. Marty and the SCCJ pondered how they could strive for corporate accountability in Switzerland.

This case delves into concepts of business ethics, business law, corporate accountability, supply chain management, and modern slavery risks in global business environments. Students will explore the complex and pervasive issue of child labour in the global cocoa supply chain, discussing how and why the problem remains, despite broad public pressure, national and international laws, and even companies’ own commitments to eradicating child labour. This case will encourage students to contemplate the problem of child slavery and accountability of multinational cocoa giants from diverse stakeholder perspectives. 

Learning Objective:

After learning with the case:

  1. Students will be able to explain the persistence and prevalence of modern slavery risks in the cocoa supply chain.
  2. Students will be able to evaluate the effectiveness of initiatives to introduce corporate accountability in the cocoa sector, including certification, legislation, policy, and cocoa companies’ own initiatives.
  3. Students will be able to apply concepts of corporate accountability and liability to recommend solutions to human rights and environmental violations in global supply chains. 

Year of Publication: 2021
Ref. No.: 21/709C
Discipline: Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG), Production & Operations Management, Social Enterprises & Ethics
Industry: Food, Beverage & Tobacco
Country: Ghana, Ivory Coast, Switzerland, United States of America
Company: Nestlé, Cargill
Languages: English
Pages of Text: 17