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Guest Lecture: Transparency in the Cocoa Industry (and what’s behind your Halloween Chocolate)

On Wednesday, October 30, our Understanding Natural and Social Systems class was joined by DSI Alum Rhea Rakshit (‘15) guest lecture and discussion. As the current Director of Product & Design at Sourcemap, Rhea works with companies to improve their traceability and transparency using innovation technology and supply chain mapping. The goal of the lesson was to investigate traditional and disruptive models of for-profit companies, and Rhea was able to give important insights into the realm of business accountability and industry interconnectivity.

In the spirit of Halloween (with an assortment of chocolates), much of the class discussion focused on the complexities of the cocoa industry. More specifically: the efforts being made by West African governments in collaboration with chocolate companies and cocoa traders to remedy the critical issues of widespread deforestation and child labor in major cocoa producers like Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.

“Our first-year cohort was encouraged to map their own ecosystems to better understand the many steps, stakeholders, and processes involved in social innovation.”

Rhea also addressed the importance of progressive leadership within parent corporations and any subsidiaries they may have. Sourcemap strongly advocates for data-driven decision making, and its software is designed to enable its customers to collect, analyze and measure the risk in their supply chains, down to the raw material. Ultimately, changing or improving sourcing decisions by leveraging this data rests with the companies themselves. For example – in keeping with the cocoa theme – Sourcemap’s partner The Hershey Company has committed to ethical production practices and consumer transparency, and allows consumers to access data about their supply chains via interactive product maps available publicly.

Upon being asked what advice she has for conscious consumers, Rhea had this to say:

“I think you’d be surprised how much information is actually available online – on company websites and financial reports – and if it’s not, try reaching out directly to them. We’re finally living in a time when consumers are increasingly asking companies about how sustainable and ethical they are, and brands are paying closer attention to their production practices. Look for companies that are pushing the envelope in achieving 100% transparency in their supply chains. Transparency is the first step towards aiming for full traceability, and mapping out an entire supply chain down to the last mile supplier is not always easy – especially if your supply chain is a complex web of suppliers spanning all across the globe. But it is possible! Especially if you use Sourcemap (yes, that’s definitely a plug).”

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