Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Nestlé: Use of Child Labor (2000-2015)

Nestlé, after more than ten years, is still struggling to eliminate the use of illegal child labor in their Ivory Coast cocoa farms. After a 2000 documentary named Slavery: A Global Investigation came out about the use of child labor in major chocolate companies, the public was in an outrage. In the documentary, the boys in the film described the horrors of being forced to work on the Ivory Coast farms, how “they were stripped naked and tied up. They were then pummeled with a variety of weapons, from fists and feet to belts and whips,” (thedailybeast.com.) Nestlé claimed to have no knowledge that the farms were using child labor. Hoping to fix the damage, Nestlé voluntarily signed the Engel-Harkin Protocol in 2001, which would announce them as being free of child labor by 2005. However, as 2005 came around, the company had not made significant changes in getting rid of child labor. The deadline had to be extended to 2008. In 2005, a lawsuit was filed against Nestlé by three individuals who claimed they were trafficked as kids and forced to work in horrible conditions on cocoa farms. They said they were beaten, barely fed, and received no payment. These incidents have further earned Nestlé a negative view in the public eye. And, as 2008 came around, the company had still not made enough progress in eradicating child labor as previously promised. The company then became part of the signing of The Declaration of Joint Action to Support Implementation of the Harkin-Engel Protocol in 2010 for a fresh start to the problem. This declaration was made with the intent to “eliminate the worst forms of child labor," (Dol.gov.)
The use of child labor has been an ongoing problem for the company and, despite more than ten years passing since finding out about the use of child labor, Nestlé has still yet to completely resolve the issue. However, the company has made some steps in the right direction. They are currently partnered with the International Coca Initiative to combat child labor and have built/refurbished 40 schools. They have provided supplies for children to attend school and are working on getting child labor agents in the Ivory Coast farms (nestlecocoaplan.com.) However, though these changes are helpful, more needs to be done in order to eliminate child labor from their chain. There are still many farms that have not been monitored, and farmers are not learning Nestlé's code of conduct and standards properly due to "lack of interest or time," (FLA.) Overall, the company has failed to deliver on several deadlines towards ending illegal child labor within given dates, and child laborers still suffer in the company's cocoa chain. According to research done by the Fair Labor Association, in 2015 Nestlé was still found to have child laborers who were engaged in hazardous work.

Paul Bulcke, CEO of Nestle

The main stakeholders that are affected in this case are the customers, the cocoa farms, and the child laborers. The customers are affected in various ways. Some know about the use of child labor in the chain, and others do not. The chocolate does not have any “child labor free” labeling, and customers do not want to consume a product that was made with the unfair labor of a child. The cocoa farms are affected since they play a part in what goes on in the farms. If Nestlé implements any farm screening or regulation, the cocoa farms will be influenced by this. The child laborers are a huge stakeholder in this case. The company’s need for cocoa at cheap prices gives farm owners incentives to force children to work for free so the owners get paid more. The children suffer as a result.

According to Milton Freedman’s definition of Individualism, a company’s main purpose is to maximize its profits, as long as this stays within the law. A business in this sense should not be socially responsible; any money used in this way is technically stealing from the company. (Salazar,17-18.) When it comes to the Nestlé case, an Individualist would initially think that using child labor would be a good thing. Using child labor saves a large amount of money for the company, thus fulfilling the idea of maximizing profits. Most of the time, the children do not get paid for what they do. Therefore, Nestlé is finding the cheapest source for getting cocoa, thus getting the most money for the business. However, the child labor used in their cocoa chain is illegal under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) since the child laborers in their chain are cruelly treated and often do not have educational opportunities. Therefore, an Individualist would consider this case unethical.

Utilitarianism involves maximizing the most amount of happiness for people affected by an action of a business. It takes into account the costs and benefits of an action and how it affects all beings who might be impacted by the decision (Salazar, 19-20.) In this case, numerous people were made unhappy. Customers are not happy with the idea that the chocolate they are consuming was made with the help of children who could have been whipped, beaten, and barely fed (grain.org.) The children are affected the worst from this case. The children working on the cocoa farms received no pay and have to do strenuous work with little food. They are forced to work in such horrible conditions while getting no benefit. The families of the children would not be happy as well since they would not like knowing their child was being treated so cruelly. While the company may benefit from paying less for cocoa, the case would be considered unethical under Utilitarianism since most of the people involved are made unhappy.

A child in the Ivory Coast collecting
cocoa beans for Nestle

Kantianism revolves around rational decision-making, honesty and autonomy. Under this belief, you should not deceive or lie to others to get what you want and you should have Good Will. Immanuel Kant used the “Categorial Imperative” to help determine if an act was permissible or not. The “formulation of humanity” was a major part of this, which considers using people as a means for your own gain as wrong since you are using them and ignoring their freedom (Salazar 20-22.) Kantianism would classify this case as unethical since the children are being used as a means to make profit. They cannot protect themselves from beatings or easily escape the farms, and their free labor saves costs for the company. Many children are also deceived into thinking they are going to work on the farm for a decent amount of money and work that is not difficult (forbes.com.) The children do not know this is a trick, and so fall into the trap since they are desperate for money. Since the children are being used as a means (which violates the formulation of humanity) and are often deceived into doing the work, Kantianism would classify this as unethical. The customers of Nestlé are being deceived as well. They are not aware that the chocolate they are buying could be made with child labor. There are no labels for this on the candy bars, which is leaving out an important piece of information that may otherwise send the customer the other way.

Another child in the Ivory Coast,
picking Nestle's cocoa beans

Virtue Theory
Virtue theory involves assessing an individual’s character based on various virtues. The theory looks at whether a person is flourishing in character and reaching their potential or not. Some of the virtues include courage, honesty, prudence, justice, and more (Salazar 22-23.) One virtue that Nestlé has accomplished is courage. Upon hearing about the use of illegal child labor in their cocoa chain, they tried to take a stand for what is right. They let the public know that “the use of child labour in our coca supply chain goes against everything we stand for,” (nestlecocoaplan.com,) and started implementing plans to fix the problem. In terms of the honesty virtue, Nestlé was not completely honest in their promises to completely get rid of child labor in their chain by 2005. They did not make much progress, and even when the deadline was extended to 2008, they did not make much progress in 2008 either. The company is also not being completely honest with their customers with what is really happening in their chain by not labeling their products for child labor. As far as prudence goes, Nestlé had not been very cautious when it came to where they got their cocoa from. Their cocoa does not come from the United States, so they should have been more aware that their way of doing things are different and could lead to problems. Another virtue the company failed to possess was justice, which has to do with hard work, fair practices, and quality products. Nestlé has not shown as much work as they promised towards ending child labor in their chain, which leads to questions as to how hard they are actually working to achieve this goal. Also, the use of illegal child labor is not a fair practice. Since Nestlé has failed to possess 3 of these virtues, people who hold the Virtue Theory would consider this case unethical.

Justified Ethics Evaluation
I think Nestlé should have looked more into where they were getting their cocoa from in the beginning. If they want to be an ethical company, they need to make sure they follow through in all business aspects, even on where the cocoa comes from. Nestlé should also have made sure to follow through with their promises of eliminating child labor in their cocoa chain, promises they made more than once. They should not have made a promise if there was a possibility they could not keep it. Alleviating child labor seems to have taken the company much longer than it should have as well. Since learning about it in 2000, the company is still having problems with it 15 years later. Nestlé should have made this one of their top priorities, both for the sake of the customers and, of course, the children. The longer the company fails to make significant changes to the child labor issue, the longer those children have to suffer and the company reap the benefit. An option for the company would be to pay the farm owners more so that the children can be paid, as well as enforce strict screening of all farms they get their cocoa from. They could have an employee down at the farms that constantly monitors and sees who is hired, thus making sure there are no child laborers and that fair practices are being used. Another option is to find a different cocoa supplier that is child labor free. There are cocoa farms that are Fair Trade certified that Nestlé could switch to. In other words, these farms are strictly monitored to make sure there is no illegal child labor and that farmers are paid the right amount (globalexchange.org.) By adding these changes along with their current plan, child labor will soon be a part of Nestlé's past.


Haglage, Abby. "Lawsuit: Your Candy Bar Was Made by Child Slaves." The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 30 Sept. 2015. Web. 24 Oct. 2015. <http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/09/30/lawsuit-your-candy-bar-was-made-by-child-slaves.html

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