Africa Day 2023 marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor of the African Union (AU). The organisation initially brought together 32 African states with the aim of encouraging cooperation, and political and economic integration among member countries. It also committed to ensuring human rights and raising living standards.
Today, Africa is very different to how it was 60 years ago, and very different to how it will be in 2050. By then, the population is expected to have doubled to reach more than 2.5 billion, comprising at least a quarter of the entire global population. Just over twenty-five years from now, half of Africa’s population will live in cities and its working age population (25 to 64 years) will be larger than in any other region in the world.
These immense demographic changes are almost too mind-boggling to contemplate. They will inevitably create many challenges, but also countless opportunities for accelerated economic growth, positioning Africa to be a future growth engine of the global economy.
Efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals — such as ending hunger, creating jobs, and reducing inequality — can harness these demographic trends and lead to greater opportunities. But for the Africa to reach its full protentional, all stakeholders will need to do their part by continuing to innovate and improve.
How we do things now will determine what our future will look like. Successful development needs to be sustainable and inclusive. It needs to close the gap often wide gap between what is promised and what is achieved.
Progress needs to be made holistically and responsibly. For instance, The Coca‑Cola Company first pledged allegiance to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2011, incorporating respect for human rights into all aspects of its operations and value chain.
Taking its commitment to the next level to deliver continuous improvement, the Company recently launched Real IMPACT, its new human rights framework. Real IMPACT is founded on the conviction that responsible companies should seek to better the lives of vulnerable stakeholders by upholding their rights, and giving them the capacity and tools to pursue their hopes for themselves, their families and their communities.
Summing up the company’s approach, Babongile Mandela, South Africa’s Public Affairs, Communication and Sustainability Director of Coca‑Cola Africa, explains:
“Real IMPACT supports the company’s vision of continuing to be a leader in respecting and driving progress on human rights. It focuses on going beyond ‘doing no harm’ to ‘doing good’ by enabling the empowerment of people and communities throughout the company’s value chain.”
Recognising that the future of human rights is in empowerment, Real IMPACT focuses on three initiatives: Impact Work, Impact Agriculture, and Impact Innovation.
First and foremost, Coca‑Cola has committed to empower workers throughout its value chain — ranging from workers in the upstream supply chain and the 700,000+ employees who work for Coca‑Cola and its bottling partners, to downstream informal waste pickers who support recycling.
The second area of impact is agriculture, where Coca‑Cola aims to drive meaningful and enduring improvement in the lives of those who provide the raw materials that go into their products — from smallholder farmers and their families to the communities in which they operate.
For Africa, the importance of agriculture cannot be overstated. The World Economic Forum (WEF) reports that agriculture contributes a third of the continent’s gross domestic product and sustains the livelihoods of half the population.
But there is still great growth potential. In the words of Mandela, “Africa is a huge market, not only for Coca‑Cola but for the many smallholder farmers who are responsible for 80% of food production. Women, who account for 70% of employment in the agricultural sector, are a particular concern for us. Our vision is to refresh the world and make a difference — promoting and strengthening agriculture will make a real difference.”
The third initiative in the Real IMPACT framework focuses on innovation. Here, Coca‑Cola aims to draw on emerging technologies and pioneering partnerships with stakeholders and experts to develop groundbreaking due diligence and remediation programmes.
From working conditions to ethical recruitment practices, and beyond, Coca‑Cola recognises that stakeholders have high expectations, and is focusing on continuously improving its performance by enhancing the speed and efficiency with which human rights challenges are identified and remedied.
Real IMPACT seeks to achieve new horizons of progress for the benefit of stakeholders across Coca‑Cola’s value chain. In South Africa, a great example of using new technologies, new partnerships and creative solutions to solve a human rights challenge is a digitalisation initiative aimed at empowering waste workers and women-led buyback centres — a group of stakeholders who are frequently unbanked, and whose earnings are largely unseen and unrecorded, which makes it difficult for them to access financial and other services.
Known as ‘Project UP’, the initiative uses a digital platform developed by BanQu to provide buyback centres and informal waste workers with verified proof of transaction through a text message receipt and a digital record of the income earned through sales to various buyback centres. The system is also a business management tool that enables buyback centre owners real-time access to the amount of material onsite.
Over the long term, the goal is for these critical workers to access additional financial services through technology-led solutions and for the industry to adopt an evidence-based approach to integrate the informal sector.
Project UP is funded by The Coca‑Cola Foundation and led by PETCO, a producer responsibility organisation in South Africa with extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes for PET bottles and liquid board packaging.
In the year to 30 September 2022, Project UP had been implemented across 104 buyback centres and 8,801 informal waste collectors had been registered on the system. A total of 8,695 tons of recyclable materials recorded had also been recorded.
In 1963, the AU’s goal was to create a better life for all Africans by ensuring human rights and raising living standards. Today, as we celebrate Africa Day, much progress has been made, but there’s still a long way to go.
So, while Africa holds the promise of delivering exponential economic growth that transforms the lives of millions, we need to acknowledge that this will only be possible if governments, businesses and all other stakeholders take action now, consistently improve their performance and embrace an inclusive and empowering approach to development.