Contributing to society through sourcing CSR – for the development of chocolate without child labor –

Morinaga & Co., Ltd (referred to as Morinaga hereafter) is one of the largest confectionary manufacturer in Japan and Authorized NPO ACE (referred to as ACE hereafter) works to combat child labor. When the partnership between these two organizations started, it was a simple relationship with Morinaga donating a part of their revenue from sales and ACE accepting this donation.
Over a couple of years, however, the relationship between the two companies grew into a partnership that works to produce “Chocolate without child labor.” What were the steps that brought them to this point? We interviewed the Head of Secretariat at ACE, Ms Tomoko Shiroki and asked about the journey from a collaboration/ partnership point of view.

Background: The Child Labor in Cacao Production Regions

According to the latest data reported by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in September 2013, one in every nine children or 168 million children in the world are forced into child labor (*1). Child labor is a big issue in West Africa, a region leading in cacao production, the main ingredient of chocolate. There are even reports that over a million children are involved in the cacao production (forced labor at cacao farms) in Ghana. 80% of cacao import to Japan is from Ghana.

The beginning of collaboration:

Morinaga, as one of the largest confectionary manufacturers, launched a CSR activity called the “1 chocolate for 1 smile (*2)” campaign in 2008, in which revenue from specific products were used to support the children in developing countries. It was initially launched as a general charity program for all children in developing countries and after a few years the program was reexamined for possible improvements.
In the meantime, ACE was one of the trail blazers in Japan working on the child labor issue in developing countries. In an effort to communicate the state of child labor to businesses, ACE launched a series of activities in 2008 including questionnaire-based research on CSR activities relating to cacao chocolate products and seminars for businesses. ACE believed in collaborating with, instead of criticizing, businesses that understood the importance of tackling the issue of child labor. ACE started its own support program in Ghana’s cacao production region in 2009 and as a result was able to make concrete suggestions to businesses.
This is how the two organizations started a dialog. The desire to face the issue of child labor grew stronger in Morinaga and a trusting relationship began to form between Morinaga and ACE. The official collaboration was launched in 2011 with the ultimate goal of producing chocolate without the involvement of any child labor.

Collaboration: Leading Up to Changing the Supply Chain

The relationship between Morinaga and ACE went far beyond a donating company and receiving NPO. In 2013, Morinaga released a limited edition DARS, their main chocolate product, which had part of its cacao imported from the ACE-supported cacao farms which Morinaga themselves supported through the donations to ACE. The local support in Ghana increased the number of children attending school and helped improve farms. The chocolate produced on these farms were then sold and more support becomes available – a beautiful cycle was formed. The packages of these limited edition products told the story of the progress made through this program and the path to production of the chocolate product.

Result: More Smiling Children

The “1 Chocolate for 1 Smile” campaigned has raised over 120 million yen to present. ACE is now supporting four villages in Ghana and over 300 children are attending school as a result. While the success is owned by ACE, it is a fact that the collaboration with Morinaga is what enabled ACE to expand the local activities.
In one of the villages ACE supports, Kwabena Akwa in the Ashanti Region, initially 42% of the children or 147 children were working on cacao farms. After working with them for 3 years, enlightening the villagers and providing school supplies etc., now there are almost no child labor and what is more, training opportunities to improve farming technique has increased production and revenue. Even after the conclusion of the support period, the project has been taken up and carried on by the locals.
Thanks to the collaboration with Morinaga, ACE has gained not only a sponsor for the project but a welcomed additional value. Morinaga’s product package carrying the story of child labor that exists behind chocolate production increased the opportunity for the general public to learn about this issue. The number of businesses taking on CSR from a social equality or human rights perspective is limited in Japan and it is rare that such an issue is actively taken up by a business. This case study in which charity work has linked itself back into the original business has become a best practice example in showcasing how a business can tackle a social issue within their own business area. Ms Shiroki feels this is a “change that was unthinkable before.”
Furthermore, there has been cases where Morinaga fans who learned about this campaign became ACE supporters themselves.

Climbing the wall of reality – the buy-in and cooperation of everyone involved

The road on the way to this collaboration wasn’t an easy one. The reality was that using cacao from ACE-supported regions for the production and sales of chocolate was surprisingly difficult. This is because changing where the cacao was purchased meant the understanding and buy-in from everyone involved was necessary – product development, marketing and material procurement, etc. ACE also faced a mountain of work reporting the state of the farms they supported and securing certificates for the cacao supply they wished to export. Furthermore, in addition to ACE and Morinaga, the cooperation of the whole supply chain was required to establish a transportation channel from the new farms. There was even a moment of crisis when it looked like the supply will not arrive on schedule but the trading company was able to resolve this potential disaster. In this way, the chocolate made from cacao without child labor was realized through the effort of various players in the production process – all gathered under the same vision, with understanding of the project and a strong will to take on serious CSR work.

To those who choose the products – What can consumers do? Be a smart consumer.

Some ACE supporters were uneasy about accepting donations from a large company. To those concerned individuals, Ms Shiroki asks to focus on what a consumer can do. Child labor is a global issue and businesses naturally have a large responsibility in it. Consumers can ascertain whether a company is involved in tackling such social issues and if they decide the company is putting in the effort, choosing their products and services will let them support the cause. Of course the activities may not be perfect in fulfilling all hopes and dreams but the effort can be acknowledged, and most importantly, we should be thinking along the lines of improving and working together to solve the issues.
There is definitely an increase of ethically-minded consumers among the youth with awareness of the need for environmental protection and developing country support. Everyone should make an effort in the position they are in whether it be business, NPO or consumers. The result of that is social change.

*1 Child labor refers to illegal and dangerous or harmful work undertaken by children under 18 that is robbing them the opportunity for compulsory education.
*2 1 chocolate for 1 smile campaign – this program supports building an environment for children in cacao-producing countries such as Ghana to attend school. The program donates to International NGO, Plan Japan, and Japanese NGO, ACE. In addition to the annual donation, once a year for a month-long campaign period, for every campaign product sold 1 yen is saved for donation.

Note: This collaboration won Second Place in the 10th Japan Partnership Award as well as the Alterna Prize (Special Award).