Nestlé has decided to work with the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to investigate whether children are working on cocoa farms supplying its factories.
The FLA is a non-profit multi-stakeholder initiative that works with major companies to improve working conditions in their supply chains.
In January the FLA will send independent experts to Côte d’Ivoire to examine Nestlé’s cocoa supply chain.
Where they find evidence of child labour, the FLA will identify the root causes and advise Nestlé how to address them in ways that are sustainable and lasting.
The FLA’s role will be to provide expertise to help ensure Nestlé’s efforts to eliminate child labour are more effective and transparent.
First food company to partner with the FLA
Nestlé is applying to become a member of the FLA. It is the first food company to do this.
The FLA’s work with Nestlé on cocoa will begin early next year in Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s largest exporter of the raw material.
In the first phase the FLA will send its team of independent experts to the country to map the supply chain.
The results of the FLA’s assessment, which will be made public in the spring of 2012, will guide future Nestlé operations.
“Child labour has no place in our supply chain,” said Nestlé’s Executive Vice President for Operations José Lopez. “We cannot solve the problem on our own, but by working with a partner like the FLA we can make sure our efforts to address it are targeted where they are needed most.”
Working with stakeholders to address the problem
The FLA is a collaboration of socially responsible companies, civil society organisations and experts, working together to promote adherence to international labour standards.
In the second phase, Nestlé will work with the FLA and other stakeholders including the government in Côte d’Ivoire to address any problems that are identified.
The FLA will assess the impact of these efforts and report publicly on the progress made regularly.
Improving working conditions
Auret van Heerden, President of the FLA, welcomed the chance to work with Nestlé on labour issues.
“Our approach shifts the emphasis from auditing and policing to finding out what the problem is,” he explained. “We can help build up the capacity on the ground in Côte d’Ivoire to deal with issues we find, and then measure whether the remedial efforts are working.”
Building on the Nestlé Cocoa Plan
The work with the FLA will complement Nestlé’s efforts to promote sustainability and better working practices in its cocoa supply chain which it set out in the Nestlé Cocoa Plan.
The Cocoa Plan is a ten year, CHF 110 million commitment to provide higher quality cocoa plantlets to farmers and to make the cocoa supply chain more traceable.
It helps farmers, their families and the communities they live in.
In Côte d’Ivoire Nestlé works with two other organisations, UTZ and Fairtrade, to ensure the cocoa it uses comes from responsible, sustainable sources.
So far 22 agricultural cooperatives are covered by the Nestlé Cocoa Plan in the country, with more being added each year.
A long and complex supply chain
The cocoa supply chain is long and complex.
This makes it difficult for food companies to establish exactly where their cocoa comes from and under what conditions it was harvested.
Certification by organisations like UTZ and Fairtrade means that the farmers who work for the cooperative have received training designed to dissuade them from using child labour.
The cooperative is monitored for compliance and externally audited once a year.
Although the efforts under the Cocoa Plan cover Nestlé’s operations in several countries, the project with the FLA will begin in Côte d’Ivoire where the company buys most of its cocoa.
There are more than 800,000 cocoa farms in the country, almost all of which are smallholdings, mostly family owned and run.
“In the past we haven’t been able to find a credible partner which has the capacity to help us with this kind of project,” said José Lopez. “Now we have found an organisation that can help us contribute to addressing the problem of child labour.”