World Confectionery Conference Exclusive: Fairtrade Foundation continues fight for farmers’ rights
Surmaya Talyarkhan visiting agricultural communities for Fairtrade. Pic: Fairtrade
This year’s World Confectionery Conference will again feature a keynote speaking contribution from Fairtrade on its positive action with the crucial cocoa supply chain. Neill Barston speaks to Surmaya Talyarkhan, senior sustainability sourcing manager for cocoa, at Fairtrade Foundation, who discusses her work ahead of appearing at our 2023 show.
With conditions in core cocoa growing regions of Ghana and Ivory Coast coming under renewed strain in the wake of the pandemic, conditions remain particularly challenging for the sector. The region remains a vital part of global chocolate supply chains, which will come under the microscope as part of wider discussions at this year’s World Confectionery Conference. (See our exclusive video sneak preview interview with Fairtrade’s Surmaya Talyarkhan here.) You can also still register for this year’s event on 5 October via our dedicated website, here.
However, with the sector under sustained pressure from wider issues affecting the industry, including the ongoing war in Ukraine destabilising logistics and ingredients operations, there remain considerable concerns from industry observers over the sector’s long-term viability. This has been underlined by a recent alarming report from Oxfam that revealed agricultural workers in the sector are 16% Assisting cocoa communities around the world is a core part of Fairtrade’s work. worse off since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
As Fairtrade has recently noted, the situation has left many farmers – who are already facing wages of around $1 a day, far less than UN-defined poverty levels, in considerable difficulty, and broader agricultural systems are fast-approaching a tipping point of collapse.
Notably, the sector study to put a public sum on the income gap faced by cocoa farmers is that conducted by Mondelez in 2020, which found that the industry needed to be paying agricultural workers roughly $10 billion more annually in West Africa to draw them up to a sustainable standard of living. As Confectionery Production has previously covered, without such substantial cash injections being put into frontline farming, the industry as we know it faces the very real prospect of spiralling into severe decline, unable to deliver sufficient financial yields for those at the sharp end of the industry.
Major Fairtrade initiative
For its part, this summer, Fairtrade unveiled a major new programme, which has been launched supporting Fairtrade certified Ivorian and Ghanaian cocoa cooperatives, targeting greater prevention and remediation of child labour and forced labour, which remain as significant issues within West African supplier nations.
Consequently, its latest drive, the Fairtrade Child Labour and Forced Labour Prevention and Remediation Programme, will disburse funds to successful Fairtrade certified applicants for initiatives that focus on essential but often underfunded elements of strengthening children’s rights and ending harmful practices. “There has been a great deal of attention paid to monitoring and finding child labour cases in the cocoa sector in Ivory Coast and Ghana especially, which is necessary but not sufficient to really get at the root of the problem,” said Edward Akapire, the Director of Fairtrade Africa’s West Africa Network.
“With this new programme, Fairtrade aims to support producer organisations to invest in prevention – such as improving education – as well as remediation of detected cases, which means connecting children and families with resources so that they can thrive, rather than driving harmful practices further underground.” The Fairtrade Standards prohibit exploitative child labour, and compliance is regularly monitored on site by the certifier FLOCERT. Still, no certification system can provide a 100 percent guarantee that a product is free of child labour. In addition, while many cooperatives now have a monitoring and remediation system in place, they may lack the resources to tackle more expensive prevention and remediation measures.
Notably, the programme is being launched with €450,000 from Fairtrade Germany, Fairtrade Austria and Fairtrade Max Havelaar Switzerland and other Fairtrade organisations, and will be expanded with additional contributions. In this way, the programme also provides an avenue for cocoa exporters, importers, manufacturers, brands and retailers in Fairtrade cocoa supply chains to support producer organisations to address and remediate child labour and forced labour, which is a new requirement in the Fairtrade Standard for Cocoa.
The move took effect from July, and requires supply chains that originate in high-risk regions, including Ghana Ivory Coast. Companies that buy cocoa on mass balance terms, meaning the cocoa can be mixed after it is exported and future buyers don’t know the specific cooperative that produced it, can contribute to the programme to fulfil the Fairtrade Standards support requirement. Furthermore, as the organisation noted, prevention activities such as improving access to quality education for children, and income generating activities that address household poverty, are potential areas the cocoa cooperatives might seek to address. Innovative project ideas based on cooperatives’ experiences and priorities are also an important aspect of the programme’s funding criteria.
Fairtrade expects the programme to finance approximately 10 proposals in the first year. Rigorous monitoring and evaluation to assess the effectiveness of interventions and to share lessons learned will be part of all funded projects. A management committee will provide expertise and the latest knowledge on best practices. The committee includes Matthias Lange, Executive Director of the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), an organisation dedicated to eliminating child labour in the cocoa sector and a key project collaborator.
Surmaya Talyarkhan (pictured below) welcomed the prospect of being involved with the third edition of our annual event, this year taking place in Harrogate, on 5 October. It will allow her to discuss some core areas of progress for the organisation in its ongoing drive to deliver a fairer deal for agricultural communities.
She said: “I am very grateful for the opportunity to talk and be part of this year’s conference. “I’ve worked at Fairtrade since 2009, and I became involved in it as I could see massive inequalities in the way that trade has been conducted, and I wanted to make a difference to that. Fairtrade’s instruments, including its minimum price and Fairtrade premium are a very concrete way of making that difference. One of the things that I’ve enjoyed seeing that is unique is in our work through producer networks including Fairtrade Africa, as they really bring insights from farmers, so our policy is informed by what matters to them, which I think is really important.”
As she explained, engaging with colleagues on the ground in West Africa has continued to reaffirm a troubling picture for many working with the industry, which it is seeking to address. But with the major tally of 1.5 million minors exposed to hazardous child labour in the form of heavy-lifting work, harvesting work using machetes and in some instances, using pesticide control equipment, the picture remains markedly challenging.
“The pandemic created all sorts of difficulties for farmers, ranging from issues with their own farms, through to contracts being cancelled and uncertainty about future purchases.
“Once they had navigated those problems, the war in Ukraine pushed up the prices of inputs (including a huge rise in the cost of fertiliser for much of this year), as well as building materials, so their purchasing power has gone down.
“Added to that, inflation in Ghana is running at 42.5 per cent, so I think farmers are finding it very difficult at the moment. I also read the Oxfam report that nine out of ten farmers felt they were worse off than before the pandemic,” reflected Surmaya on the complex situation in West Africa, which, despite the best efforts of key stakeholders across the value chain, appears to be experiencing an extended array of major tests.
“There’s more to do and we have been leading the work on that – we have been leading dialogue on things like Living Income because we set the benchmark for that back in 2018, and that’s something now that the industry is very much talking about, and the sector is now talking about this. It’s important to recognise that higher prices are an notable lever, but they are not the only thing – income diversification and access to finance do play a part as well,” she added, acknowledging that it remains the case that no one single organisation can achieve the broader goal of lifting communities out of poverty on their own.
To that end, the EU has been putting forward new legislation this summer for due diligence relating to transparency of supply chains, incorporating human rights standards (including the cocoa sector), as well as parallel laws addressing deforestation that is anticipated to have a meaningful impact for conditions in West Africa. “I find it quite heartening that we are starting to see a move from voluntary sustainability to it being mandated. “The way
Fairtrade International has engaged with that is interrogating that from the perspective of smallholders – stating that it’s great that this is coming in, but what does that mean for them directly. “We have introduced guidance for them on how to conduct human rights and due diligence themselves, so they can be leaders in that process. “For instance, with deforestation, you need geolocation mapping data that isn’t to hand for every farmer. For incomes, you need to keep records of your costs, and all of this takes training. “Where Fairtrade Africa has been amazing is in delivering that- reaching 40,000 farmers through training last year. It’s really hard to get across just how transformative that is.”