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Be More Than Cost-Savers, Be a Human Rights Leaders

Corporate Transparency and Responsibility BY JESSICA GREEN

The Value of Saving and Who It Really Impacts

In a large, non-descriptive conference room, senior executives converge. Copies of multiple Excel spreadsheets, filled with data of various forms (tables, charts, and lists), are spread across the long table. Each sheet itemizes every minute detail, down to a fraction of a penny, of last year's sales reports. The topic for this routine meetingthis year's budget and cost-saving measures. The CEO begins by asking everyone to turn to pages 5-10 in their packet, particularly tables 1-5, and then questions how the company can cut costs, obtain new clients, and survive in the current economy. The executives, noses down, reviewing the facts and figures in front of them, start to feel the pressure to think of both cost-saving measures, as well as growth plans. The CEO continuously taps the table, demonstrating that he is still awaiting a response from someone, anyone. Concurrently, as the CEO impatiently waits, hundreds of consumers shop online or in brick and mortar stores to purchase this company's products, unaware of the company's meeting and agenda to cut cost. Some of these consumers research the company behind the brand and their mission prior to purchasing, while other consumers simply buy one brand over another based on price. All the while hundreds-of-thousands of miles away, individuals who have never heard of or met the senior executives or consumers, work day and night in harsh unsafe conditions earning fractions of pennies, if anything. Then living, held captive, within these same properties of unsanitary, confined conditions, never to escape. Mariam, a 12-year-old child is taken from her home, and trafficked to work in a cocoa farm in Ivory Coast, West Africa. She is lured away in the promise of a better life, only to discover a life of hunger, abuse, and captivity. An unnamed 13-year-old child spends her days cleaning iPhone screens for 13-15 hours a day at the Foxconn factory in China. Yaya, 15-years-old, and Zanga, 16-years-old, fight to escape a cocoa farm, and run night after night in the dark searching for freedom. Freedom from being beaten for slow work, or wanting to leave their abusive capturers to find the better life they were once promised. For both the CEO and the senior executives these fractions-of-a-penny savings represent a rectified number on a spreadsheet, table, or chart. This number can even symbolize a possibility for a bonus or promotion. Then for consumers these pennies represent the amount of money they have in their checking account, as well as the price they are willing to spend on the goods they purchase. Consumers often view saving money on one item as an opportunity to purchase additional goods or put money in their savings account. However, these same fractions of a penny embody something drastically different to Mariam, Yaya, Zanga, and the millions of individuals in their same situation. Cost-saving measures promote the increase of child labor, forced labor, and unfair wages in unsafe conditions, therefore, cultivating modern-day slavery. This cultivation is bred on the understanding that to save money, cost has to be cut somewhere within the chain. The Dark Side of Chocolate Video:

The Hidden Layers and Corporate Responsibility

Deep within some supply chains are unspeakable conditions of modern-day slavery. These conditions are hidden within multi-steps and layers in supply chains, cross-country borders, and even the unwillingness to understand the inner workings of a company's processes and the organizations with which they conduct business. For example, within the cocoa supply chain the plantations harvest the cocoa (some workers are enslaved and paid unfair wages), the cocoa then goes to intermediaries who sell to national exporters (whom statistically show a profit), who then sell to chocolate companies through the stock exchange (whom also profit). This multi-step supply chain allows some of the chocolate manufacturing companies to hide issues of child labor within their own supply chains, and make outlandish public statements that the majority of cocoa farms are not owned by the companies that make chocolate or supply cocoa, and that they do not have direct control over the cocoa farming and labor practices. Senior executives and CEOs continue to converge in closed-door boardrooms ignoring their role in these harsh conditions. These suited men and women do not take responsibility for the direct impact of their cost-saving measures, they simply see dollars and cents. Companies like Hershey's, continue to profit, while still only taking small steps, based upon old legislative promises from 2001, to acknowledge the need for Fair Trade within their supply chain.
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Some companies are even granted sympathy from others in the industry, as well as the media, for the realistic outbreak of public truth that is being revealed, at the same time violations are being discovered within company processes. Chief Executive Officer Auret van Heerden, from the US Fair Labor Association (FLA), states that were finding tons of issues at Foxconn management and believe were going to see some very significant announcements in the near future. In turn, according to the ABC News' Nightline program, Ines Kaempfer of the US Fair Labor Association, explains: There was a moment for Nike in the '90s, when they got a lot of publicity, negative publicity. And they weren't the worst. It's probably like Apple. They're not necessarily the worst, it's just that the publicity is starting to build up. We call it the 'Nike moment' in the industry. However, does it matter who is the worst? Or should we as consumers continue to publicly push industry leaders, the brand names that we know and love (e.g., Hershey's, Apple, Nike, McDonalds), to be transparent and evoke change that sets standards for all other companies to follow. If these companies want to be leaders, be leaders in all accounts, not just the ones that increase your profit margin on number-filled spreadsheets.

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Don't Just Tell Us, Show Us What Change Looks Like

As consumers we should continue to push companies to be legitimate and transparent, and show everyone that they care about more than their charts and figures. We cannot back down. We also cannot underestimate the power of public perspective and our impact on these companies. Recently, through the increased use of online communication and communities, companies have felt the effect of public perspective, and the requirement of making changes. Companies like Hershey's, Apple, Nike and even McDonalds are receiving thousands of messages from the public about what they need to change and how they need to change it. The advocacy for change includes Hershey's being asked to raise the bar to meet, and hopefully even exceed, expectations as an industry leader that is transparent and legitimate within their supply chain, and to stop purchasing cocoa from areas known for using child labor. Apple is seen as an industry leader in the world of technology, and now the company is being driven to be a leader in human-rights, to examine their supply chain and move towards change, including the right to organize within companies such as Foxconn. Nike is also being summoned to be honest about the conditions of the factories within their supply chain, to be consistent, and to live up to their campaign slogans (i.e., Just Do It). Then McDonalds is under pressure to be transparent and make sustainable healthy supply chain decisions, especially with their sourcing choices. These companies represent a small handful of the organizations that need to evoke change, in turn, illustrating the public movement to swiftly push them in the right direction. This is not impossible. Currently companies like Thanksgiving Coffee, Wholesome Sweeteners, Divine Chocolate, and Toms are industry leaders, providing legitimacy and transparency, while showing the value of cultivating a better world. These companies achieve the image of a better world through Fair Trade labor, transparency of all entities within their supply chain, as well as visiting the facilities that produce their products and collaborating with the community to improve education and quality of life. Senior executives and CEOs can actualize change including: Hershey's starting to visit all layers in their supply chain to give the many children of Ivory Coast, West Africa a better life; Apple can conduct proficient audits to determine the areas that necessitate improvement, make the changes to advance the lives of workers, and give them a voice to advocate for a better way of life; Nike can be honest about the factories in their supply chain and realize that consistent change has to occur and Just Do It; McDonalds can be the golden arches of transparency, and source healthy food from legitimate farms. And if at any point these companies struggle with how to be leaders, they can take notes from the playbooks of the real leaders, those who are legitimate and forth-coming about their actions, to then start cultivating and showing all individuals an accurate diagram of a better world.

The movement for change should continue through petitions, blogs, ads, and letters in which consumers publicly and openly talk about concerns and the need for change, pushing senior executives and CEOs to look up from their spreadsheets and realize human rights are essential. This means that consumers should not stand for simply saying change will occur, we have to demand that change is outwardly displayed. Historically, consumer perspectives have pushed corporations to attempt change, as these companies do not want to lose sales due to their reputations. These changes should continue to occur and include showing the hidden layers of the supply chain while taking responsibility for the company's holistic role, as well as the impact of cost-saving measures, to truly abolish slavery worldwide. To learn more about the movement for change, visit, view the current petitions, and educate yourself and the executives of the brands you buy about modern-day slavery, as well as its impact on human rights.

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