Cocoa Barometer 2020: "Too many companies continue to ignore structural issues in the cocoa sector"

Cocoa Barometer 2020: "Too many companies continue to ignore structural issues in the cocoa sector"

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After two decades of broken promises in the cocoa sector, the Cocoa Barometer 2020 calls on the sector to move away from symptomatic solutions. Cocoa farming communities are still battling the effects of poverty, child labour and deforestation, and in-depth system change is urgently needed. This is possible when companies take responsibility for human rights violations and deforestation. The report makes three recommendations to this end.

The chocolate and cocoa sector are exemplifying the unequal game between large multinationals on the one hand and small-scale farmers on the other. For decades, the sector has been accused of widespread child labour, uncontrolled deforestation and structural poverty.

In the biennial Cocoa Barometer a broad coalition of civil society organisations who are members of the VOICE Network (including Rikolto, Oxfam, Solidaridad, ABVV-Horval etc.) assess the sustainability performance of the cocoa sector.

Voluntary initiatives are insufficient

Voluntary initiatives are not an end point. They provide the practical insights to make effective legislation that sets the bar equally high for everyone in the sector.
Chris Claes Rikolto

This year, it has been exactly 20 years since the first promises were made by the cocoa sector to ban child labour. However, a recent study by the University of Chicago has shown that the number of cases of illegal child labour has even increased over the last two decades.

Why is that the case? The authors blame it on the fact that the various sustainability initiatives are voluntary and therefore there are no penalties for non-compliance. Nor is there any enforcement to meet the targets. It is therefore ironic that, at the very bottom of the chain, farmers do lose their sustainability premiums if they break the certification rules.

Bart Van Besien (Oxfam Belgium): "In the cocoa sector sustainability is still seen as a nice extra, while in reality it is about large-scale violations of human rights. Preventing them must be an integral part of the business model in the sector".

No technical solutions to systemic problems

For a long time, companies have focused on 'good agricultural practices' that cocoa farmers have to apply. Those technical glasses, however, are very short-sighted: the underlying problems that exacerbate extreme poverty, and with it the low capacity of farmers to adopt good farming practices, remain unchallenged and unsolved. "This focus makes it possible for companies to ignore the structural problems of poverty: low prices, lack of infrastructure and the absence of responsibility and liability," says Bart Van Besien.

3 recommendations for a healthy cocoa sector

1. Regulation that changes the system, rather than penalising the farmers
The current sustainability projects provide more responsibility for farmers, but not for companies. The scoring criteria of most certification systems look at what happens on the plantation, but not at the trading relationship with the buyer and the possible abuse of power. This creates extra pressure on farmers and impunity for the rest of the sector. In order to achieve a fair sector, we need legislation that calls everyone to order, from the small farmers to the powerful companies.

2. Effective partnerships between producer and consumer countries
The cocoa farmers must enjoy a favourable investment climate. This requires investment in infrastructure, health and education, but also transparency and dialogue including all stakeholders. How can this process be encouraged? Partnership agreements between consumer countries and producer countries lend themselves perfectly well to this. Discussions on such an agreement are currently underway between the EU and Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. It is important that processes that set partnerships in motion should be inclusive and deliberative, ensuring that civil society and farmer groups have a respected voice at decision-making tables.

3. Pay a fair price to farmers
Paying a fair price to farmers is not a favour, it is a right. It is a precondition for enabling farmers to earn a living income. At the same time, it is the most effective way to create a positive impact for farmers and encourage them to produce sustainably.

"Companies that today are not committed to transparent chains and fair relations with producers will eventually be at a competitive disadvantage", says Chris Claes of Rikolto. "As part of Beyond Chocolate, we are currently working on various chain projects that demonstrate that it is possible to market successful chocolate products with high sustainability ambitions. That brings about upward spirals of change".

Cocoa and chocolate companies need to find ways to redistribute value across the chain so that farmers can earn a guaranteed living income. Rikolto supports companies, farmer organisations and government actors that want to do better.