Exclusive: Cargill focuses on keeping its Cocoa Promise

For the past decade, Cargill has worked in regions around the world aimed at improving the lives of cocoa communities. With the company set to play a key role in our World Confectionery conference next month, editor Neill Barston discusses major challenges with its head of sustainability, Kate Clancy

“What we realised early on is that Cocoa sustainability is not an island,” reflects Kate Clancy on Cargill’s approach to engaging with some of the most deep-rooted challenges within the industry’s core supply chains within West Africa.

As she notes, the realities of agricultural life for many in rural Ghana and Ivory Coast, include limited access to education and professional training, complicated further by endemic underlying poverty, that observers have noted has threatened the future viability of the sector. Such pivotal ongoing tests, considered alongside the equally pressing matter of more than 1.5 million children across the region exposed to child labour within the cocoa sector, have posed considerable questions for the sector at large.

This summer, the situation was further in the spotlight, as a report from Oxfam revealed the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic had left cocoa farmers living standards declining in Ghana by a further 16%, according to its latest assessment. So, against a backdrop of heightened levels of consumer awareness around the world, companies are coming under the microscope more than ever in delivering on their sustainability pledges.

Clearly, the two West African nations, which between them still account for two thirds of the global cocoa market serving a global chocolate market worth in the order of $150 billion, remain vitally important. For its part, Cargill’s own Cocoa Promise scheme has, over the past decade, grappled with these issues, installing dedicated teams on the ground to drive meaningful wider industry change.

The issue of supporting cocoa supply chains is set to come under the microscope on 5th October, as Waleed Nasir, sustainability lead for Cargill represents the business with a presentation at our event being held at the Harrogate Convention Centre, Yorkshire,UK, focusing on its ongoing work within the sector.

As the company noted, its sustainability efforts began back in 2000, shortly before the signing of the Harkin–Engel Protocol, which aimed to eradicate the issue of child labour. However, more than two decades later, it’s a problem that remains stubbornly entrenched – largely due to the simple fact West African farmers struggle to afford to pay adult labourers, earning as little as $1 a day in many instances.

Company action
In response, Cargill partnered with the CARE charitable organisation back in 2005, followed by its early push to co-found the UTZ cocoa standards, farmer field schools and its first move to pay farmer premiums back in 2010. From there, came its Cocoa Promise, which was set out as a package of measures designed to enable farmers and their communities thrive, including a major move incorporating UN sustainable development goals into its activities.

“We are very proud of the fact we are celebrating ten years of the Cocoa Promise. We launched it with the goal to go beyond certification at the time, which was seen as the key tool to address sustainability, and acknowledge the fact that in addition to having those verification methods that are very important to ensure standards, we also wanted to look at some of the other issues that were impacting on farmers.

“So, we were very interested in understanding how we could improve cocoa productivity, but now we have pivoted to the conversation around cocoa profitability and income for farmers. “Also, working across these communities to examine the lack of access to social services, quality education and work to support women’s entrepreneurship,” explains Clancy of its activities, which she feels have made a genuine difference – with its work across six countries said to have reached a total of 200,000 farmers,” explains Kate (pictured below).


“For us, farmers are the centre of the programme, so we are trying to work across the very broad range of economic, social and environmental issues that are impacting the sector, and we wanted to use the Cocoa Promise as a vehicle to engage our customers, also to be able to set ourselves targets and improving livelihoods,” explained Clancy, who cited several projects that it has been engaged with, including the production of its Veliche gourmet chocolate. This has focused on delivering an enhanced level of traceability into its processes, and recognised that such cocoa growing communities had significant potential for additional income generating opportunities that would make a difference to many households. (see Confectionery Production’s previous exclusive with Kate Clancy on Cargill’s work here).

Tackling child labour
As Confectionery Production has covered over the past few years, one of the other core issues framing the global agenda has been the ongoing issue of tackling child labour in supply chains. It has led to Fairtrade recently issuing an assessment of conditions in West Africa in particular being notably impacted by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We know that child labour and hazardous child labour continues to be an issue in the sector, and this is something that we are addressing in our programme. “We also know it is very much directly linked to poverty, and the situation that cocoa farming households find themselves, and in addition to not having the means, they also lack children or families lack access to education in the vicinity, and that they can be in a place that they should be – in school,” added the sustainability specialist, who said the company is exploring the use of several strategies including child labour monitoring and remediation systems

As she reflected, these looks at the vulnerability of child labour, and understand why individuals may be at increased risk, and enable a more directly informed approach to tackling the issue. Clancy added: “One of things I am most proud of is the fact that thanks to these systems, we have identified children at risk of child labour, and provided a total of 45,000 birth certificates for children, enabling them to be registered at school. “This means we now have thanks to very targeted systems that provide you with data, and help households, we are able to work with partners and government authorities to help children have much more choice and opportunities in life.”

EU legislation breakthroughs
Perhaps the most potentially groundbreaking development for the sector is around the corner – in the form of soon to be introduced EU legislation banning deforestation within supply chains including the cocoa sector, as well as parallel protections for human rights.

Clancy concluded: “I do believe there’s a great opportunity with sustainability legislation. We are supportive of the EU commission’s proposals for deforestation-free products and due diligence, we believe it’s important to put in place rules that will address some of the more complex issues of deforestation and degradation, we have been working on those for years – through transparency and traceability in supply chains. “We have 100 per cent traceability to first point of purchase within our direct supply chains, we’re rolling out digital traceability systems within the Cocoa Promise.”

As she explained, another area that has been gaining considerable momentum is its engagement with the CLEF initiative, working with Ivory Coast’s Ministry for Education. This has brought a number of companies to look at access to education within the cocoa sourcing areas.

Significantly, she explained that what was most effective about this project was its reinforcement of government policy, through accelerating access to educational opportunities. As the specialist added, it has proved considerably rewarding to directly witness instances of community empowerment that has been born of a deep interest in genuinely trying to understand the day-to-day issues faced by many rural farming areas. “We have built a lot of practical experience of that over the years through talking to those communities, so using community needs assessments, we are able to understand the challenges they are facing, and can work out practical technical support. There is also skills training for entrepreneurship, literacy and small business skill training, through using community action plans.

“When you go back to them later and see how they are making informed decisions on using their resources – such as common savings and loans for the community, and helping each other start businesses has been quite heartwarming,” explained Clancy, who noted that the overall issue of farmer pay, and attaining a living income remained vital topics within the segment.

Support for women
As with a number of other major chocolate and cocoa groups, Cargill has been prominent in advocating enhanced support for women within cocoa growing areas. This has ranged from offering access to skills training, through to driving engagement with wider projects such as schemes delivering quicker access to vital clean sources of water.

Clancy added that its projects with women have ‘been very promising’ including partnering with CARE and the International Cocoa Initiative, which found that women typically spent most of their resources on children’s education. “These studies found women were unable to live up to their full potential, as they had time and resource constraints, and skills constraints, so we published a white paper, The gender equity and gender and women’s empowerment strategy,’ and looked at a multi-stakeholder approach, working with men and others to bring that into our training – and then pivoted that to look at how women could gain access to active resources,” explained the sustainability specialist.

On a broader economic level, the region has long called for expansion of cocoa processing facilities at origin, which can potentially drive greater local consumption levels, as well as ensure a greater level of the comparatively small amount of profits that are retained at origin in West Africa.

From Cargill’s perspective, just under two years ago it invested $100 million in Yopougon, Ivory Coast, which is expected to have a significant impact for the region. Clancy added: “We have expanded our cocoa processing capacity in Ivory Coast very intentionally, and we have other such facilities within Ghana as well, which we do precisely so that we add more value in those countries, where we are also there an employer of more higher skilled workers at our sites. “So, we are very much interested in exploring opportunities to invest in additional processing and adding value within the industry. I think the challenge is looking at how that can be expanded,” she concluded, adding that strong progress is being made by the business overall in its Cocoa Promise as it passes its key decade-long milestone.



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