Bittersweet Chocolate: The Legality and Ethics of Child Labor in Cocoa Production in Côte d'Ivoire

By Isern, Jennifer | Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship, January 2006 | Go to article overview

Bittersweet Chocolate: The Legality and Ethics of Child Labor in Cocoa Production in Côte d'Ivoire


Isern, Jennifer, Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship


Executive Summary

Conducting ethical international business is particularly challenging given diverse countries and societies with different moral foundations and beliefs. Child labor is, understandably, an emotional issue. Many international businesses, including those involved in cocoa production and the chocolate industry, confront issues of child labor in their own operations and those of suppliers in their value chain. Culture, laws and regulations, and international and industry protocols provide some areas of common approach, although differences in practice across countries and cultures must be respected when addressing child labor. Ethical perspectives and theories such as value driven management will help businesses make better decisions about child labor.

Introduction

Business Ethics

Business ethics considers the morality of business activities. Morality is a broad term that encompasses what a society or group believes is "good or bad, right and wrong, just or unjust, fair or unfair" (De George, 2005, p. 19). Morality can be formalized through customs, laws, and mores that the society or group accepts (De George, 2005). International business poses a particular challenge for business ethics, as practices that are accepted as just and right in one country may be prohibited in another.

The concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has emerged as a buzzword that links business and ethics. CSR considers how a business acts in the interests of society. In a classic business approach, a business analyzes its activities and results from the perspective of shareholders first and foremost. This perspective is sometimes boiled down to the essential question: Is the business making money for shareholders? This classic approach embraces the phrase attributed to Milton Friedman that "the business of business is business" (Davis, 2005, p. 70). Detractors argue that CSR is misguided, expensive, displaces other "corporate priorities such as research and development, and is rarely valued by Wall Street" (Grow, Hamm, & Lee, 2005, p.77). Some, including Milton Friedman, go even further to declare that CSR efforts are '"fundamentally subversive' because they undermine the profit-seeking purpose of public companies and waste shareholders' money" (Grow, Hamm, & Lee, 2005, p.77).

Under a CSR approach, however, a business complies with "prevailing social norms, values, and performance expectations" (Sethi, 2003, p.71). Adopting a CSR approach requires businesses to analyzes their activities and results beyond the immediate shareholders to consider society more broadly including media, consumer groups, "suppliers, customers, employees, community members, even social activists" (Grow, Hamm, & Lee, 2005, p.76). CSR proponents argue that social issues are fundamental to business:

...social pressures can also operate as early indicators of factors core to corporate profitability: for example, the regulations and public-policy environment in which companies must operate; the appetite of consumers for certain goods above others; and the motivation (and willingness to be hired in the first place) of employees (Davis, 2005, p. 69).

Advocates for CSR cite the "growing gap between societal expectations and corporate performance" that could lead to greater government regulation, reputation loss, and weakened market position (Sethi, 2003, p.xi).

Child Labor in the Context of International Business

Child labor is, unfortunately, not a new topic. During the agricultural and industrial revolutions in Europe and North America, child labor was common. More recently, over the period 1994 to 2002, there were more than 330 news articles raising concerns about child labor (Sethi, 2003). Recent cases of international companies and alleged child labor include Nike's production of soccer balls in Pakistan in 1996, numerous cacao plantations and chocolate factories in Côte d'Ivoire in 2001, Monsanto, Unilever, and national seed companies in India in 2003, sugar plantations supplying Coca-Cola in El Salvador in 2004, and Walmart and garment factories in Bangladesh in November 2005. …

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