Fairtrade creates human rights and environmental risk map revealing cocoa sector’s key issues

Fairtrade is set to enhance its sustainability work with plans for a new online mapping system in a bid to identify human rights and environmental risks in some of its core supply chains, including the cocoa sector, in a bid to combat ongoing major industry issues, reports Neill Barston.

As the international movement noted, violations within these key areas of policy continue to occur on a global level, with core markets for the confectionery business in West African nations of Ghana and Ivory Coast being no exception to this, with the region coming under the microscope alongside many other nations.

The situation in the region has been evidenced by recent sector studies revealing that 1.5 million children remain exposed to hazardous child labour activities within West Africa, which Fairtrade addressed at our last World Confectionery Conference, as it discussed its ongoing work driving to create a sustainable industry on an international level.

Among the most pressing concerns has been the level of deforestation witnessed within the two nations, with around two thirds of prime forest having been lost from the two countries, due largely to commercial industry activity, as well as a significant problem with illegal mining that has proved difficult to combat.


Major scale
Significantly, as Fairtrade underlined, one in five employed people live in poverty, and globally, a staggering total of 160 million children, with 70 per cent of then in the agricultural sector, do work that damages their health and affects their access to education.

During the past few years, Confectionery Production has continued to report on this core issue, with major concerns have been expressed by a number of organisations including Fairtrade, that the situation is believed to have worsened within Ghana and Ivory Coast, as farmers face the after effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, continuing fluctuations in cocoa prices, as well as an unviable major increase in essential crop fertilisers that have created further pressure on the industry.

On a worldwide scale, it is estimated there are between five and six million smallholder farmers responsible for 90% of cocoa production, equating to a reported figure of around 50 million people internationally who are dependent on the sector’s supply chain for their employment. The present operating model has seen the trade dominated by a handful of processing companies – nine businesses handle around 75% of all cocoa trade, driving its pricing structure and sustainability policies.

However, Fairtrade noted, agricultural production is responsible for 70 percent of freshwater withdrawals across the world and child labour is increasing, which it has continued to develop polices to address. In response, it has developed its risk map that covers cocoa, coffee, bananas, wine, grapes and honey, as well as the most common countries of origin of these products. According to the organisation, this will be further extended this year.

Furthermore, the global movement added that catalogued risks are relevant for the products and their associated growing regions for any supply chains, not only for Fairtrade, so that anyone – from farmers and worker organisations to brands to NGOs – can hone in on salient risks to communities and in supply chains. This comes as companies face growing legal obligations to carry out such risk assessments and to prevent, mitigate and remediate the greatest risks in their supply chains.

Moreover, as a part of its work, assessment work, the map has also been designed to add value by incorporating rightsholders’ input collected through dialogue and participatory processes: Fairtrade spent several months working with farmer cooperatives, workers and plantation management, Fairtrade staff from six continents, and external experts to develop the map.

Country breakdown
Broken down by product sector, Fairtrade’s risk assessment includes core West African cocoa growing nations of Ghana and Ivory Coast, which remain the two largest players, with Ghana having a reported population of 31,7 million. Fairtrade commodities originating there include cocoa, banana, fruit and oils. There are currently 113,048 farmers organised into 19 Fairtrade certified farmer organisations and 4,018 workers on four certified plantations and companies in Ghana.

Its ‘traffic light’ based system of risk rating showed a high level of concern over the fact 48.9% of its population were classified as poor, with a rate of child labour attributed at 20% (according to Unicef), as well as forced labour, according to the Global Slavery Index. Other highlighted key areas of concerns including gender inequality, as well as environmental concerns relating to deforestation.

Meanwhile, in Ivory Coast, which has a population of  27,1 million. Fairtrade sources commodities including cocoa, nuts, banana and oils. There are currently 271,993 farmers organised into 265 Fairtrade certified farmer organisations and 2,487 workers on 7 certified plantations and companies operating in the country. According to its figures, 39% of the country is listed as being poor, with workers rights highlighted as an area of concern – 20% working at poverty levels.

There was also a high level of concern over gender inequality, and a child labour rate of 22% (according to Unicef), with noted concerns over the level of completed rural primary schools, as with Ghana, which revealed a significant amount of work to be done in improving conditions for those in more remote communities.

Significantly, Ivory Coast was also placed as a country of particular concern for general forced labour, citing US department of Labour investigations, though the level of this was not quantified.


As the new mapping system noted, another significant factor has been the fact that low incomes threaten the future of cocoa, and around the world, young people are leaving cocoa farms for urban areas, while farmers and workers increasingly shift to other better-paying products, including illegal mining. This is known regionally as ‘galamsy’ and has become a significant problem for the region, with agricultural communities coming under pressure to allow mining on their traditional farming lands as a means of generating additional income. Moreover, as Fairtrade noted, to resolve these collective issues, concrete  collaboration among cocoa and chocolate companies, governments and civil society to change these risks and root causes.

The website also includes detailed information on specific risk issues identified in the covered commodities, such as child labour, gender rights and living income, as well as environmental risks related to climate change, water, and biodiversity.

Marike de Peña, President of the Fairtrade Producer Network for Latin America and the Caribbean CLAC, said: “The risk map can facilitate a transparent dialogue between supply chain actors and help companies in building effective responses to address the greatest risks, avoiding further harm to farming communities and the planet.”

In terms of the methodology behind the map, it is reportedly based on the first step of a typical human rights and environmental due diligence process, which is to identify risks in a supply chain, the map catalogues the most common risks and also demonstrates how they are inseparable from their root causes, such as poverty, inequality, and exploitation.

In addition, Fairtrade added that it can also support companies in each step of implementing their due diligence responsibilities, and particularly in the identification, prevention and mitigation of harms and risks.

Significantly, as it added being transparent about systemic human and environmental issues can also represent a risk for farmers and workers in itself. If companies are not ready to shoulder their part of the responsibility, they might opt to cut all ties rather than go through the process of mitigating and remediating risks together with farmers and workers.

As part of this process, Fairtrade encourages companies not to ignore risks but rather to use the new map as an opportunity to start a dialogue with farmers and workers and take concrete steps to make global supply chains more sustainable.

Because many risks are deeply rooted in poverty, inequality and exploitation, it takes the collective effort of companies, farmers, workers, governments and civil society to effectively tackle them in the long run. This is why, although certification can encourage certain standards to be upheld, the use of certification should never be the only measure a company takes to prevent, mitigate and remediate the greatest risks in their supply chains.

“Fairtrade has been a pioneer in advancing human rights in business for more than 30 years,” said Fairtrade’s Business and Human Rights Director Tytti Nahi. “Due diligence must not be just about internal processes and requirements to business partners, it needs to be about dialogue, collaboration and changing one’s own practices, to improve people’s lives and protect the environment.”  A full link to Fairtrade’s latest mapping system can be seen here.


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