Seeking solutions for cocoa sustainability for the confectionery sector

Managing director of York Cocoa House, Sophie Jewett reflects on key sustainability events, including the World Cocoa Foundation partnership meeting, exploring how fairer cocoa markets for all within the supply chain can be achieved


Over the last few months I’ve had the privilege of being involved with the European Cocoa Forum held in Lisbon last September, the World Cocoa Foundation Partnership Meeting held in Berlin as well as the FCCI Chocolate Conservatory and Salon Du Chocolat in Paris the following month.

Then it was back to York to manage our own manufacturing for the current consumer demands and the chaos that Christmas always presents for a chocolate manufacturer on the high street.

Each event has been very different in nature with stakeholders from across the supply chain all with differing needs, markets, priorities and perspectives.

However, I can be confident that every single event had something in common, each was full of organisations, governments, charities, farmers, manufacturers and consumers that all wanted cocoa and chocolate to be better.

I am absolutely certain that you could never meet a single person at any of these events that didn’t want cocoa and chocolate to be more sustainable, for farmers not to be paid what they are worth or for more fairer practices in the supply chain. So if we’re all on the same page, job done and it’s all now good? There’s no issue right?

Coming away this question has been at the centre of my processing ever since. Sustainability, Ethics, Traceability – these are all buzz words that we see time and time again in company mission statements, charitable charters, governmental strategies and even product packaging. Just recently in Berlin the sentiment of the many dynamic conversations and presentations shone a light on the increase in company and global certification schemes and the volume of spending that had taken place, particularly in West Africa while real impact and quality of life for cocoa farmers saw no real improvement.

Attending one of the events I was more than a little bemused by a dialogue on stage between one Cocoa Growing Country government and one chocolate maker that went rather like this – (I paraphrase):
Cocoa growing country: “We need to pay all our farmers more”
Chocolate Maker: “But if you pay them more what’s to say they won’t all turn to cocoa and with too much incentive to grow cocoa there’s too much cocoa”

Cocoa growing country: “But you told us there would be a shortage so we all grew cocoa. Now when we grow cocoa and there’s too much the price drops and makes no difference to the money we earn”

Chocolate Maker: “Well we need you to grow more cocoa and to stop cutting down forests and to send your children to school and do more with less and to prove it all”

Cocoa growing country: “Ok well how can we do that?”

Chocolate Maker: “Well we have our projects that will do that for some of your farmers, and you can jump through these hoops for us and we can get you a certificate and we can sell it as sustainable and we can demonstrate that you are being ethical and ……

Ok so I might have exaggerated the exchange there a little, but I hope that it conveys the point. It’s easy for us to be critical of schemes, certifications or practices because there is so much to be critical of because there is an enormity of work to do. The industry encompasses the lives and perspectives of millions around the globe, it’s impossible to imagine that we can find one solution that’s devoid of complexity or could ever hope to satisfy. The industry can-not run like a government – trying to look after the needs and voices of all of its members or a company trying to serve the commercial interests of its shareholders alone. It relies on all of these representations, priorities and voices. But it does not mean that progress is not being made.

Attending one event a number of years ago I heard the head of one very large cocoa organisation state “If you can’t measure it it’s not important”. There is more to our progress than what can be measured. Just because we’ve not seen the results that we know we want to see it doesn’t mean progress isn’t being made.

The real issue is that global encompassing complexity is just too difficult to grasp, to measure, to understand or to provide a solution for, a tick box would inevitably be easier. So we’re stuck with solutions that can only be measured.

While the certification schemes of the last 10 years might not have addressed all the challenges they are a start. While the voice of the farmers is something that needs to be heard no 2 farms are the same, each have different challenges and requirements in the same community let alone different regions, countries or continents.

To be at the World Cocoa Foundation Partnership meeting witnessing an essence of the friction and connections that the industry embodies was a real privilege – Throughout the presentations there were a number of key themes that reverberated across all the discussions, media and platforms, Climate Change and deforestation the impacts, challenges and prevention. Living Income Differential and value retention by farming communities.

Female empowerment and issues with child labour in the supply chain. As well as emerging disruptive innovations such as BlockChain, Farm mapping and farm based productivity tools. Increased farmer representation and valourisation of the cocoa pulp into a gorgeous drink. All intentioned to provide more value and voice towards the farmers in the supply chain, while none will solve the global challenges alone they all make an admirable contribution.

The one conclusion I have come away with is that no one government, region or company can solve the challenges that the industry faces. If we want our businesses, practices and purchasing to be more sustainable then we must acknowledge that this is not a task we can tackle alone or solely from our own perspective or imagine one silver bullet of a solution. Sustainability is not tick box of a destination, it will be an ever moving target.

I was enthused by a shared commitment to create bigger tables for discussions with more diverse representation, events like these create more opportunities for shared understanding of differing perspectives, while technology gives more opportunity for more voices to be heard, more knowledge to be accessed and more opportunity to find the product we’re after. I’ve not come away with any conclusive answers but I am confident that there’s some passionate people determined to keep working on them, I’m grateful for the welcome and perspective that they shared with this chocolate maker.

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