Delivering on cocoa sustainability remains a major industry focus

Creating sustainability programmes for the cocoa sector is now a major area of focus for many businesses within confectionery, as Neill Barston found speaking to several key companies

A major area of sustainability work has centred on improving the lives of farmers working within supply chains for the confectionery sector.

Among those businesses putting schemes into place is Olam Cocoa, which has committed to creating living incomes for farmers, a child labour  free supply chain and greater forest protection by 2030 in its latest initiative.

The Cocoa Compass venture builds on the firm’s 15 years of sustainability progress, achieved in partnership with its customers, governments, NGOs and farming communities, and in line with the company’s purpose to re-imagine global agriculture and food systems.

Notably, the company has already achieved 100 per cent traceability of its sustainable supply chain in Ivory Coast and Ghana under its 2020 traceability commitment and its pledge to combat deforestation as part of its Cocoa & Forests Initiative action plans.

Speaking to Confectionery Production at FIE in Paris, Alistair Davis, cocoa sustainability lead, believed the venture would prove a strong platform over the next decade.

He explained the Cocoa Compass represented around a year’s worth of work behind the scenes, examining the origins of its first cocoa sustainability programme 15 years ago and understanding its impact.

“We have looked at where the successes have been and where there have been failures, and setting up milestones for the next decade. We will report on an annual basis on the key areas where we see issues in the supply chain.

“I think transparency is a core part of this initiative, but there are three major areas – the first one being prosperous farmers and moving them towards a living income, which has now been established by Fairtrade.

“We recognised there’s a long distance from where an average West African farmer is today and where they need to get to what we call a dignified income,“ said Davis, who revealed it  was the company’s aim to have 150,000 farmers on a living wage, not only in West Africa, but also South America and Asia, which he said was a challenge the company hoped to surpass.

He added: “Fairtrade has set a farmer earnings figure of $7,200 dollars, and we recognise, that in Ivory Coast they are only earning, $2,300 dollars, so that’s a big goal, but we will look at things like maximising yields from farmland and encourage farmers to enlarge their farms,” revealed Davis who said the company was also advising farmers on diversifying into areas including making honey and soap making.

“We work closely with our origin countries to ensure that disease resistant crops and hybrids are being used to ensure them for the future. It’s not always that easy – access to the correct seed stock, providing nurseries and delivering seedlings is a technical process, but one we have been involved with for years,” he explained, believing that having a strong level of knowledge of conditions in origin growing countries was of vital importance.

“Another core issue is child labour and our aim has always been to eradicate this, but we need to go one step further is to have 100 per cent of children within the supply chain having access to education- if there’s a school nearby then they will more than likely go to it and won’t be involved in hazardous forms of labour. We are trying help break down barriers to achieving that through assisting with birth certificates and making sure that school fees are paid, so that’s another focus for us.”

Under the banner of re-imagining global agriculture, he explained the business also has targets for environmental performance in terms of increasing net carbon tree stock, which he said linked to the cross-organisation Cocoa and Forests Initiative being taken up across the industry.

Beyond Chocolate

As Dirk Jacxsens, CEO of Belgian based chocolate business Libeert, explained that sustainability has been fundamental to the company’s business. The company has stood out for insisting on its supplies being 100 per cent sustainable, to ensure the highest level of ethical trading for its premium brand of confectionery.

Speaking to Confectionery Production recently at ISM, Jacxsens explained that he was fully supportive of a move by Belgian authorities to create a movement known as Beyond Chocolate. This is a partnership that is seen as the first key outcome from the SDG Charter for International Development, signed by more than 100 companies and organisations to enact major change with sustainability initiatives.

Describing the initiative, Jacxsens explained: “In 2018, Belgian deputy prime minister Alexander de Croo, said he would like to see Belgian chocolate being sustainable and he launched Beyond Chocolate. It has three elements, one is creating a living income, another is on deforestation and another on child labour and child abuse.

“He wanted everyone from industry to be involved, from Callebaut, Cargill, Puratos, Mars, Mondelēz, Godiva, Rainforest Alliance, to people such as ourselves, and he wanted to get them round a table to find out what the key performance indicators were regarding these three topics.

“So, I engaged myself on a steering team in relation to child labour issues, which is a sensitive area indeed, but something I had awareness of with having been CEO of Unicef (in Belgium) before joining Libeert. It’s become a broad initiative with groups in France and Germany also working on this.

“It’s a big subject and really serious – it is not just about building something like a school out in Africa, this is about creating systemic change.”

Optimism ahead

Similarly passionate about sustainability, Jack Steijn, founder of the Chocoa chocolate festival in Amsterdam, has placed the topic at the heart of the event, which attracted thousands of visitors from around the world.

He enthuses that the eighth edition of the event (see our review in this edition), has been particularly notable for the level of engagement shown by both those attending and exhibiting in terms of a common desire to see conditions improve for those working within cocoa supply chains.

This was self-evident from Chocoa’s event programme, which featured a series of senior industry specialists who noted that collective industry action, including the extended use

of technology (including apps), and satellite monitoring, was beginning to turn the tide in terms of making tangible impact for farming communities.

Steijn said: “One of the most important things is that people understand that we have to move towards sustainability. Even 10 years ago, when the second International Cocoa Treaty was negotiated, there was just one paragraph on sustainability in that document, producing countries and consuming countries seemed opposed to each other.

“But that’s not the case at all, as everyone is now involved in sustainability, with some wanting to put the bar higher than others, but everyone is moving in the right direction. It’s never enough, but I do think that some progress is being made.”

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