In 2013, we began a journey to better understand the key human rights risks for Coca-Cola’s extensive agricultural supply chain, and we knew we would learn a lot. We also knew that it would require significant collaboration with our suppliers, bottlers and key stakeholders to carefully examine these risks and to better prevent potential future violations.

Our third-party country sugar studies on child labor, forced labor and land rights have served as important vehicles to build an understanding of Company policies internally and a framework to undertake action in collaboration with our supply chain partners. In 2014, we made progress toward our goal of completing 28 studies by 2020. We published the first two of these country studies, Colombia and Guatemala, earlier this year, and I’m proud to share the most recent studies on El Salvador and Honduras. We will publish our Brazil study in early 2016, and major research and field work is currently underway in India, which we’ll plan to publish by end of 2016, as well as in Mexico and several other countries in Africa.

So, why are we doing all this? Why invest time, resources and people into developing reports? It’s nice to have a report, but really only valuable when applied. To that end, we are using these reports as a tool for engagement with our suppliers, bottlers, industry partners, including sugar associations, and others to address issues raised through these reports and importantly how to manage and mitigate going forward. Given the complexity of the sugar supply chain, it’s essential that we all align on the risks, policy environment in which we are operating, and how best to address. In addition, these studies support the Company’s goal to sustainably source our key agricultural ingredients and to increase transparency and accountability all the way down to the farm level.

In follow-up to the Colombia and Guatemala studies, we’ve been working closely with our suppliers, sugar associations and others to address the report findings and develop a plan of action. In Colombia, although our report did not find any evidence of children working in the formal sugar industry, a small percentage of children were found working in the informal and unregulated sector known as “carretilleros”, or families that use horse carts to enter sugarcane plantations after cane-cutting to collect organic materials. This is an important issue for the Colombian sugar association, Asocaña. The Coca-Cola Foundation has recently awarded a grant to Asocaña to develop an initiative to improve the skills and organizational capabilities of carretilleros families, especially for women, in the municipality of Corinto, Cauca Department. As poverty and its related problems are some of the main causes of child labor in cart pushing, this project aims to support the skills development and economic opportunities for these women.

Although no systematic issues were identified across the three risk areas, the Guatemala report did highlight important areas of improvement. For example, in the area of forced labor with several mills in Coca-Cola’s supply chain, few controls and mechanisms were found to prevent forced labor situations. Since then, we have worked directly with these mills to address their management systems.  More broadly, we are working closely with the Guatemala sugar association, ASAZGUA, to continue to build on their efforts over many years on key labor issues, including child labor and forced labor, occupational health and safety, and overall respect for human rights.

This year, we have also continued to use our voice to share lessons learned on our experience, especially land rights, engage a wide range of stakeholders, build knowledge internally through training of our bottlers, procurement, and others, and support multistakeholder efforts focused on operationalizing respect for land rights, including the Rights and Resources Initiative’s new guide on Respecting Land and Forest Rights.

Stakeholder collaboration is at the center of our work. And, our engagements this year, including at the Work Bank Land and Poverty Conference, the Company’s annual Human Rights and Business conference, UN Global Compact as well as a convening on sustainable sugar hosted by Coca-Cola Brazil and Bonsucro, focused on how to translate our studies into action and build coalitions across the private sector, civil society and government.

This past year, we are starting to see some initial outcomes of our country studies – and the importance of them driving an internal and external conversation on our human rights impacts. There is a lot more to be done but the momentum is building for clear action. 

Country Studies