Ethical Issues in the Supply Chains of the Coffee and Grocery Retailing

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The aspect of being an ethical business is not enough in itself in the 21st Century.  In today’s society, all major, as well as leading business entities, are not just held by what they make abut also by what they keep. Investors, Consumers, business partners, media organizations and regulators, and media organizations have evolved to expect that a business, as well as its whole supply chain, uphold ethical standards. It is a matter of time that a business or a firm finds itself or its activities in a supply chain system that is experiencing serious charges of violating ethical issues (McGraw 2008, p. 29). In most cases, if this kind of scenario takes place even the biggest firms within the supply chain are most likely to get dragged into the blame.  The rise of scandals such as the supplier-generated ethics one can be said to be the major risks that most big brands face in the current business work today. Such scandals tend to great damage o n major brands as well as the upcoming ones in both the global and local business environment.

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Organizations seek to develop partnerships and various forms of integration and links with trading partners for efficiency and effectiveness. These links can be described as business relationships aimed at ensuring every activity in the respective organizations does not stall at any one point (Varley 2001, p. 15). This is why there is a need for some ethics to promote professionalism in the business environment and best practice in the provision of services to each other.  Managing business and ethical relationships is the key to consistent success in supply chains of companies and help develop and maintain a value of their products.

The coffee supply chain includes growers that plant the product, intermediaries who may be involved in many aspects of the supply chain like in the primary processing or can collect quantities from growers and sell to the processor, the other one in the chain is the processor who uses machines that convert the raw product to refined product that we consume. Then we have exporters and wholesalers who bring it closer to the consumer he buys the refined coffee in bulk and sells it to the retailer who is has direct contact with the final consumer. Retailers range from supermarkets, hotels, independent retailers and catering organizations. The grocery retailing is highly active at the retail level in the UK as most of them are owned by corporate groups. There are also suppliers of the grocery products who get them from growers or grow them (Katerina, Theodoros & Georgios 2009, p. 54).

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The role of ethics in supply chain

The issue of the supply chain has been seen as belonging to few section of organizations that believed in being at the helm quality wise but this has changed with the sudden rise in standards where ethics is the key component. Ethics is highly upheld today as it helps reduce the supplier risk because organizations today rely heavily on suppliers to bring quality raw materials that make the finished product (Varley 2001, p. 36). This call for trust as defaults in the supplied products may result to malfunctions of the finished products which may result to huge loss of customers. This is what has been happening in the past few years where companies like Toyota recall their products after identifying some defaults in the vehicles they have created (Ray 2010, p. 32).

Ethical Issues in the Supply Chains of Coffee Retailing

The environment cleanliness issue

One of the issues in the supply chain of coffee is keeping the environment pure or reducing carbon footprint in the environment. This is a social responsibility issue where organizations have a duty to keep the environment clean. The coffee supply chain main issue is environmental cleanliness poses big challenges because every stage has a scenario where carbon is emitted. It is not common for coffee growers to use greenhouses which are an environmental hazard those who use them automatically do not uphold environmental cleanliness. The intermediaries in the supply chain who carry out primary processing are required to reduce carbon footprints that are emitted by the machines they use or of if they transport to the processor the locomotion used to emit carbon to the environment. They are required to ensure a reduction of carbon footprint in a situation where there are few options making it a tough call to uphold these ethics. Further in the supply chain is the processor who is at the center of the environment ethics issue. This is because from the machines used to process the coffee berries to the chemicals used in processing and the packaging materials of the product pose as environmental hazards and require close attention to ensure cleanliness in the environment. Third world countries like Kenya, for example, do not uphold this environment conservation issues as it goes as far as release untreated sewage to the rivers and unmonitored carbon emission to the environment by coffee mills.

The Labour Utilized

It has been discovered in the recent past that some organizations are using children as workers in their activities. This exploitative and mean because child labour is illegal especially because those who do this want to reduce labor costs to increase profits. Coffee growers in some parts of the world employ children to take care of the plants in the field which violate children rights which is inhuman simply because it is cheap to hire children. This is unethical as it involves exploitation and cannot be considered as best practice.

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Ethical sourcing  

Ethical sourcing is a scenario where a company at one part of the supply chain takes social responsibility at other stages of the chain. Different from the traditional practice, ethical sourcing has companies taking responsibility of the others even if they do not have any formal liability for the outcome of the behavior. UK Companies like Cadbury were among the first ones to adopt this because the chain of command plays a big role in maintaining their reputation. This is a very expensive exercise but very important as it helps maintain good customer perception of the company hence very important.

Ethical Issues in the Supply Chains of Grocery Retailing

Environment cleanliness

The grocery retail supply chain has this issue nagging it especially because of the new technology discovered to grow groceries in controlled conditions or greenhouses and the genetically modified product’s technology (Beamon 2005, p. 14). Both scenarios contribute heavily to environment pollution even though very profitable. Since the key importance of every business is to make profit, ethics makes sure the profit is made in a harmless manner. The grocery supply chain has the responsibility of practicing environmental friendly activities and is faced with a very tough call where profit is an objective of any business idea even though organizations have to consider their future and a clean environment is part of that future.

Labour force

Labour is the core of production it is an expense and minimizing its cost maximizes profit. It, therefore, comes into the limelight many at times, especially where child labor is practiced because of it illegal and unethical. It is, therefore, an issue that is supposed to be looked into and upheld with utmost ethical standards.


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Disorganized business practice

In most developing countries like India, hawking is popular in most major cities where the retailers use mobile carts to do their business. The shopping ambience is not there because of the dusty roadside settings is a health hazard to the same customers they serve. It is, therefore, ethical to ensure that these standards are raised so as to protect the health of the customer. The supply chain has the responsibility for taking care of the other players in the supply chain for example, in this case, can work out a system where they can improve the retailer’s standards.

It is therefore logical that ethical behavior standards are upheld collectively around the supply chain so that a healthy business relationship prevails.


Ethical issues as we have noted are very dominant in the supply chain of both the coffee and grocery retailing industries and require to be upheld around the world because of the need to succeed in some objectives like reducing environment pollution which require collective responsibility. It is also important to create policies enforceable through law to curb some malpractices like child labour because they are inhuman and unethical. This will also present an opportunity to create tough measures that will see to it that those who commit these malpractices get punished. . A culture of social responsibility is also promoted through screening of these ethical issues where best practice is upheld and seen as part of healthy business relationships.

Supply chains of the two industries are sensitive because they deal with products that are directly consumed by customers hence why high standards should be maintained at all costs. Ethical practices are therefore crucial to ensuring that the health of the consumer is not at risk while helping in keeping a clean environment (Beamon 2005, p. 29).






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Beamon, BM 2005, ‘Environmental and Sustainability Ethics in Supply Chain Management’, Science & Engineering Ethics, 11, 2, pp. 221-234, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost, viewed 24 April 2012.

Katerina, P, Theodoros (Theos), E, & Georgios, D 2009, ‘Implementation of collaborative e-supply-chain initiatives: an initial challenging and final success case from grocery retailing’, Journal Of Information Technology (Palgrave Macmillan), 24, 3, pp. 269-281, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost, viewed 24 April 2012.

Levy, M 2009, ‘Retailing management’, Boston: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

McGraw, J 2008, ‘Ethical issues in business: a philosophical approach’, Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Ray, R 2010, ‘Supply chain management for retailing’, New Delhi: Tata McGraw-Hill Education.

Varley, R 2001, ‘Retail product management: buying and merchandising’, London New York: Routledge.


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