Not just fast fashion and not just in Asia – Food brands’ child labour and slavery scandals illustrate the importance of knowing your supply chain

H&M, The Gap and Primark – these fast fashion companies have had their share of child labour scandals in the past, but they are not the only industry that has come under fire. Over the years, many large and internationally known food companies have been found to have a supply chain riddled with ethical sourcing issues and human rights violations. One particular area that has been making continued negative headlines is the chocolate industry.

The Chocolate Industry – Plagued by child labour and human right’s abuses

Especially the cocoa plantations found in Ghana and the Ivory Coast have been – and probably still are – some of the worst offenders. In fact, research published in 2020 and conducted over a decade came to the conclusion that child labour had in fact increased on cocoa farms in these two countries, despite industry promises to tackle the issue. (1)

Indeed, the report estimated that around 1.56 million children are working on cocoa plantations in the two countries, which make up around two-thirds of worldwide cocoa production. (1)

Companies Mars, Hershey, Nestlé were all caught up in child labour scandals due to the fact they source their cocoa in these two countries. Not just that, in February 2021, the first legal action was launched in the US by eight children who claim that they were even forced into slave labour. The accused corporations included among others, the aforementioned three giants of the chocolate industry. The children accused these companies of aiding the illegal enslavement of thousands of children due to the labour practices among companies in their supply chain. (2)

The plaintiffs in the case directly held the large chocolate producers responsible for these practices and claimed they either knew or should have known about the systemic abuse of children. (2)

On the back of that case came Nestlé’s announcement in early 2022 that it would start paying cocoa farmers directly in order to eradicate child labour from its supply chain. To that end the company announced it was going to triple funding for cocoa sustainability to €1.2bn over eight years. It became the first multinational food company to do this. The company said it planned to introduce a payment scheme with payments of up to €470 per year for two years to households that supply it with cocoa, followed by annual payments of €235 until 2030. (3)

One of the difficulties within the cocoa industry is the practice of buying bulk commodities from many different sellers, which makes it difficult to single out unsustainably produced cocoa. Therefore, many chocolate makers and cocoa traders are trying to increase their direct sourcing. Nestlé has promised to source all of its cocoa through its direct supply chain by 2025. In 2022, they were only sourcing around half of it directly. (3)

Not just in Asia – Child labour revealed in all 50 states of the U.S.

It is easy to think that child labour only happens in poor countries in Africa or Asia. The surprise must have been big, when two months ago news broke that an investigation by the New York Times had revealed instances of child labour in all 50 states of the U.S. Many of these children were migrants from countries in South America. They were working in brutal jobs that caused serious injury or death. The scandal touched the supply chain of many corporations. Among the companies implicated were General Mills, Walmart and Whole Foods. With products such as Cheerios or even Ben & Jerry’s implicated, it is pretty certain that a vast majority of U.S. consumers have products associated with child labour in their homes. (4)

Naturally, whether it is the cocoa industry or this recent child labour revelation, the large companies, whose supply chains were affected entirely deny the allegations of having known about the human right’s abuses.

Indeed, while we cannot pass judgement on who knows what, both these instances illustrate an important point when it comes to food production: know who your suppliers are. Both consumers and regulators are demanding more transparency when it comes to products found on the shelves of supermarkets. While climate impact is one of the leading concerns, the social component of the value chain, i.e. labour practices, should not be overlooked. Only if you have a very clear understanding where exactly the ingredients of your products come from, can you be certain that your suppliers ethical and environmental practices will not land you in hot waters one day.

inoqo’s Mission – We help you identify potential risks in your supply chain

When you are a large F&B brand with hundreds of different products and possibly thousands of ingredients, knowing the details about your supply chain is a vast undertaking. In the past you would have had to allocate a large portion of both time and money to doing so. We at inoqo have developed a SaaS service that can quickly calculate your product impact across a number of different dimensions such as their social impact. Are the labour practices in your supply chain up to legal standards? Are they fair? Are they sustainable? You can get an answer to all these questions from us quickly and at much lower expense than more traditional product impact assessments. If you would like to know more about how we do this, feel free to contact us at Let us help you make your supply chain transparent and scandal-free.


Photo by Aditi Gautam on Unsplash

by Laura

from inoqo

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