Ethics and Africa Sourcing: Don't Wait, Just Do It

Even though I'm still skeptical of Africa as a key developing market from a sourcing perspective relative to China and India in the short-term, the region absolutely holds significant promise for the future. But given the extreme poverty in parts of the continent, should we apply the same ethical sourcing standards (e.g., no child labor) that we do to other developing markets? A recent op/ed in Supply Management challenges this notion. The author, who writes from Africa, questions whether it is "morally 'wrong' to give dignity to such people through outsourcing production to their countries and allowing them to earn a small wage? Or would the world rather western companies watch children suffer continued impoverishment than risk violating ethical trading codes?"

On the contrary, the author suggests, "Isn't it morally wrong for established businesses to implement 'no sourcing' policies for countries in Indo-Asia, China or Africa because for them it's 'ethically wrong'; when people in abject poverty would resort to the most drastic actions just to earn enough to provide a day's meal ... It's absurd that the western world is waiting to enforce workers' rights by its standards before extending its supply chains into Indo-Asia, China and Africa. A worker's basic right is the ability to afford food, clothing and shelter from their labour/earnings." Statements like this are further proof in my book that the "fair trade" price should be the market clearing price, at least when it comes to parts of the world which need an initial push to get their export markets going. What do you think? Should we apply the same "ethical" standards to regions of the world which have significant export promise, but a severely impoverished population who would be happy just to have any work at any wage, just as we do to regions like China and India that have at least a couple of decades head start with their export economies?

Jason Busch

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