One especially prevalent theme at the LCA Sustainable Supply Chain Summit in Chicago this past week was the need for companies to communicate corporate responsibility goals to suppliers. While requiring suppliers to report on environmental metrics was uncommon, most presenters said their companies did request that suppliers fill out an environmental or social performance scorecard. In general, the consensus was that suppliers should be considered partners in reaching sustainability goals. Sherilyn Brodersen, Ethical Sourcing Manager for Cadbury USA, shared a story that perfectly illustrated why this is the case.
Cadbury addresses sustainability through several programs, including Cadbury’s Cocoa Partnership, which envisions “thriving rural communities that can support a sustainable cocoa supply chain.” The Partnership works closely with communities and farmers in Ghana — from which they have sourced cocoa for over 100 years — providing community libraries and fresh water wells, teacher training and supporting farmers’ ability to grow more cocoa and earn more income. This works out great for Cadbury, by helping to ensure long-term availability of one of its most critical supply materials, and for the local Ghanan communities.
In 2006, after closing a purchasing agreement for the foil used in chewing gum packaging, Brodersen set off on a trip to visit the Ghanan communities and farmers who make up the beginning of the supply chain for Cadbury’s confections. While there, she recalls trekking with farmers up a mountain path through the lush rainforest, to visit a plot of land where cocoa was grown and harvested. As the group came up to the peak of the small mountain, they heard an unfamiliar noise. The deep buzzing sound seemed out of place and sharply contrasted the natural sounds of the rainforest that had surrounded them as they hiked. As they peered over the mountain from the summit, a swath of freshly clear cut rainforest was visible on the mountain below. The source of the sound became obvious: chainsaws.
Horrified, Brodersen and the farmers went back to the village and spoke to the village elder. Investigation of the clear cut revealed a permit allowing a site survey to determine the land’s suitability for bauxite extraction. (Bauxite is an ore used in aluminum production.) Although the company was acting responsibly by going through the proper channels to obtain a permit, the situation was alarming to the community and to Cadbury. A clear cut on this mountain, aside from the absence of habitat and biodiversity, would lead to changes in rainfall, temperature, and soil, slowing cocoa production to a halt. This would both take away the livelihood of local farmers and disrupt Cadbury’s supply chain. To complicate the issue, the permit was held by the same company with which Brodersen recently finished negotiating a contract for aluminum.
Ultimately, the community, the government and nonprofit partners negotiated with the bauxite company, which decided not to pursue mining in that area. For Cadbury, where extreme due diligence had been spent on sourcing ingredients, it was a realization that no area of the supply chain is without impact.