Cocoa sustainability projects 'having little impact'

10 May 2018

The chocolate industry needs to ask itself hard questions because a decade of efforts to improve the living standards of cocoa farmers have produced little effect, according to a report.

The 2018 Cocoa Barometer said poverty, child labour and deforestation had been made worse by a rapid fall in prices for cocoa, particularly for growers in West Africa.

“Widely touted efforts in the cocoa industry to improve the lives of farmers, communities and the environment made in the past decade are having little impact,” said the report.

It described the scope of proposed solutions as “modest” and said these solutions did not even come close to addressing the scale of the problem.

The barometer, a biennial review of the state of sustainability in the cocoa sector, said smallholder cocoa farmers in Cote d’Ivoire – the world’s biggest cocoa producer, have seen their income from cocoa decline by as much as 36% over one year.

“One of the painful questions the cocoa sector has to ask itself is whether the sustainability efforts made in the past decade in the cocoa sector have led to actual impact,” said the report. “All indicators point to a lack of sector-wide ambition, and therefore a lack of urgency.”

The world market price for cocoa saw a steep decline between September 2016 and February 2017.

The report said that while farmers bore the brunt of risks from volatile prices, there was no concerted effort by the industry or governments to alleviate any part of the burden of this income shock.

The collapse in prices was brought about by overproduction of cocoa in recent years, especially on land cleared from native forests. More than 90% of West Africa’s original forests have disappeared.

The sector retains high levels of child labour, with an estimated 2.1m children working in cocoa fields in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana.

“Not a single company or government is anywhere near reaching their commitments of a 70% reduction of child labour by 2020,” said the report.

The cocoa market was effectively “broken”, with farmers having no real influence. Many of the current programmes in cocoa focus on technical solutions around improving farming practices.

More pressing issues include how the market defines price, the lack of bargaining power among farmers, market concentration of multinationals and a lack of transparency and accountability of both governments and companies, the report said. 

“As long as poverty, child labour and deforestation are rife in the cocoa sector, chocolate remains a guilty pleasure,” said Antonie Fountain, co-author of the Barometer.

“Current approaches will not solve the problem at scale. Companies and governments need to acknowledge the urgency and make a change. Efforts that cover less than 50% cannot be called ‘solutions’.”

The report calls for net income to be made the key metric for all sustainability projects, a commitment to a sector-wide goal of achieving a living income and a moratorium on deforestation.

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