Corporate Reporting on Modern Slavery in Global Supply Chains: Examining Nigeria's Cocoa Farms.
Slavery, human trafficking, forced labour and child labour which are forms of modern slavery are some of the most egregious forms of human rights abuse. The persistence of these problems in the global economy has generated much discontent among those concerned with the elimination of such human rights abuses. There is no evidence to indicate that efforts by international organisations, governments, civil society, and businesses to combat modern slavery in global supply chains have yielded significant results in addressing the problem. National laws requiring transparency in labour conditions in supply chains through which globally sourced goods are obtained are increasingly being imposed on businesses in an attempt to eradicate the problem.
This study examines the implications of the emerging and developing transparency in supply chains model of laws imposed on commercial organisations or businesses as a tool to eradicate modern slavery in their global supply chains. The laws are based on businesses producing and publishing reports about their efforts to eradicate modern slavery. Additionally, there are several United Nations’ (UN) and International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Conventions and Protocols that are based on the prohibition of modern slavery. First, the context in which modern slavery occur in the Nigerian and West African cocoa industry is discussed, comparing the situation in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana to Nigeria. Second, the international conventions, national laws and initiatives geared towards the protection of human rights and the eradication of modern slavery are analysed in order to foreground the laws and regulations that have been created as regulatory interventions to address modern slavery in global supply chains. Third, chocolate businesses’ disclosure practices on modern slavery are examined to determine the degree to which their contents reflect the goal of relevant laws and their efficacy in achieving the aim of the laws against modern slavery in Nigeria’s cocoa industry. Fourth, the study explores the role of corporate reporting on modern slavery as a transnational regulatory tool, including its challenges and potential. Finally, corporate reporting on those issues is assessed to determine whether there are additional measures and other mechanisms that may enhance its effectiveness.
To engage with these issues, the study was conducted through a mixture of document analysis and face-to-face semi-structured interviews. The effectiveness of businesses’ reporting requirements regarding modern slavery is assessed through examining the relevant laws and regulations and relating them to chocolate businesses’ modern slavery reporting. The study evaluates the likely efficacy of these interventions by drawing on an in-depth exploration of the cultural and socio-economic situation in Nigeria in relation to the level of human rights protection that corporate reporting in its current state can provide in such circumstances. A key finding in the study is that although corporate reporting requirements on modern slavery and has been in existence for 13 years now with the enactment of the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act 2010, very little progress has been made in the eradication of the problem. This is because laws against modern slavery in supply chains require businesses to simply report their efforts to eradicate the problem, giving them plenty of discretion on what to report. Businesses report on corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies, which they implement at the source of their raw materials. It is difficult, however, to connect these CSR strategies to the eradication of the problem, as the monitoring of the bottom of supply chains appears problematic. Modern slavery result from extreme poverty at the bottom of supply chains, which leads to the availability of streams of vulnerable workers looking for any kind of work to survive. Poverty leads vulnerable families to send members away to engage in any available work in order to support their families. This study found that Nigerian cocoa farmers’ work is not valued enough by buyers, who pay insufficient prices for their products, which leads to poor remuneration for their work.
Interviews with Nigerian enforcement agencies revealed that poor enforcement of existing labour laws at the origin of cocoa beans, and unsatisfactory government support enables the perpetrators of modern slavery. This means that the results that the corporate reporting requirements on modern slavery are seeking to achieve are not being supported at the location of the abusive labour practices. I argue that the major responsibility lies within the country as the source of modern slavery to fully fund and engage law enforcement and equally support the courts to enforce the already-existing labour laws and minimum wage regulations in Nigeria.
Nonetheless, corporate reporting requirements as enshrined in laws addressing modern slavery, although weak in application, have brought the problems to bear as issues to be discussed by businesses’ boards of directors and investors, who are expected to play a major part to remedy modern slavery. Therefore, corporate reporting requirements also have the potential to become more transparent, which may lead to a better outcome for the modern slavery transparency in supply chains model of regulations. This study contributes to filling the gap in the literature on modern slavery in the context of Nigerian cocoa farms, which is under researched. It will also contribute to future research on other commodities produced in developing countries for the benefit of businesses serving consumers in the global economy. In teasing out some of the specific challenges within one particular setting, this study is also a contribution to the general literature on enforcement of modern slavery regulations in global supply chains.