By Mohammed Maoulidi
In an interconnected world where communications have never been more sophisticated and penetrating, it is proving difficult for companies to claim that they do not know details of their businesses, even in remote areas. In our information age, ignorance is no longer an excuse; it is not even a plausible defence. Sooner or later malpractices are exposed. Company profits are then compromised by government fines and lost business. The risks of exploiting Africa are proving costlier and harder to avoid, as the chocolate child labour scandal of 2015 illustrates.
But what can be done against multinational corporations that abet human rights violations by turning a blind eye to abuses which boost their profits? Choosing not to act with due diligence regarding the origin of products from Africa or doing such investigations haphazardly or half-heartedly can be costly to a firm. Public relations problems are one result, sometimes leading to a buyer backlash in the form of a consumer boycott. Expensive global brands can have their expensively-maintained lustre tarnished. Customer loyalty suffers if buyers distance themselves from companies for which crimes against humanity are committed for the sake of company profits, whether these companies profess to be ignorant of such crimes or not. Consumers know that by purchasing products tied to human rights abuses they are condoning such abuses.
In late September 2015, a lawsuit filed against the world’s three top chocolate makers for involvement in human rights abuses in Africa illustrated another form of consumer protest that is also costly for multinationals.
This article is extracted from the November 2015 edition of IOA’s Africa Conflict Monitor (ACM) and is authored by ACM analyst Mohammed Maoulidi.