Cocoa certification body UTZ has reprimanded four auditing firms following “alarming” issues, including insufficient audit activities and poor certification decisions.
UTZ, one of the leading organisations in setting standards for the cocoa and coffee industries, said it had identified and acted on “non-compliances” with its cocoa certification standard, following reports of child labour and deforestation on certified farms.
Four auditing firms responsible for certifying many UTZ-certified farms in Côte d’Ivoire were reprimanded earlier this year, UTZ said. Two of them have now been prohibited from conducting certification audits or certifying new clients.
A letter seen by The Washington Post, dated March 2019, said UTZ found that one of the auditors had “insufficient audit activities, repetitive bad audit management practices, and poor certification decisions which are alarming”.
UTZ (whose name derives from the phrase Utz Kapeh, meaning good coffee in a Mayan language) merged with the Rainforest Alliance last year. According to The Washington Post, it had “regularly approved cocoa from West African farms that use child labour or have contributed to deforestation in the region”.
The newspaper added that there had been “significant lapses in its compliance reviews”, and interviews and documents had shown that many certified farms were located in nationally protected forests in Côte d’Ivoire. It also reported that research co-sponsored by UTZ in 2013 and 2017 found that certified farms in Côte d’Ivoire were more likely than other farms to have child labourers.
Responding to the newspaper’s claims, UTZ said it “became aware of challenges [in the cocoa industry] after our regular monitoring activities identified non-compliances with our certification standard”. It added: “After conducting due diligence, we de-certified select certificate holders”.
In April 2019, UTZ set up its Cocoa Assurance Plan which “includes a one-year pause on any new cocoa certifications in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, the de-certification of select certificate holders, and additional measures building on actions taken in previous years to improve the assurance element of our certification programme”.
The certification body said it was working with producers and other agents in the supply chain, including governments, companies and NGOs, to implement new systems to tackle issues like child labour and deforestation.
Meanwhile, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire confirmed that sustainability and certification programmes would be allowed to continue in their countries.
Earlier this month, the countries threatened to suspend the schemes over concerns they were being prioritised by chocolate makers “at the expense” of decent pay for farmers.
Chocolate makers had been slow to pay what’s known as a living income differential for cocoa bean purchases. In July 2019, it was announced that a “living income” premium of US$400 would be added to the price of each tonne of cocoa from the 2020-21 season in order to ensure farmers were being paid fairly.
The cocoa boards for Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire said: “We shall monitor and evaluate the complementary co-existence of the living income differential and sustainability programmes being implemented in our respective countries. We reaffirm our commitment to eradicating child labour and deforestation in cocoa, and will collaborate with all stakeholders to promote and sustain the cocoa industry.”