Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Leon Kaye headshot

Vast Improvements for Farmers In Global Cacao Sector, but Much Work Ahead

By Leon Kaye

The global chocolate industry faces a bevy of challenges, including human rights, the environment, sustainable economic development and climate change. One international organization, the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) says it is on a mission to strengthen the cocoa industry by boosting sustainable development programs in countries where this crop is grown - especially in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, which combined is home to 60 percent of cocoa production. Among its several programs, WCF's CocoaAction initiative aims to align some of the world's largest chocolate companies, governments and NGOs.

This week, WCF issued an annual report outlining what the Washington, D.C.-based organization says is the progress it has made on improving sustainability across the global chocolate supply chain.

The organization's largest achievement may help improve transparency and traceability across the entire chocolate industry. Companies working with WCF on its CocoaAction initiative have reached almost 147,000 cocoa farmers across 330 communities in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, claims this report's authors. So what exactly does that mean?

Once the reader cuts through the report's jargon, it becomes clear what the chocolate industry needs to work on in order to address the challenges confronting this sector. Those problems include the cocoa swollen shoot virus (CSSV), a constant threat to cocoa farmers, as well as the pests and weeds that are often the bane of cocoa farming.

But there are also many opportunities for companies to work with their supply chains. Partnering with farmers on land management, for example, can help boost yields while improving families' income. Women's empowerment also needs more attention from chocolate companies. A recent Oxfam report shows that while women in Côte d’Ivoire own 25 percent of the country's cocoa plantations and comprise over two-thirds of the industry's workforce, they only earn 21 percent of all the income generated. WCF insists this problem is also on its radar.

Such improvements will be possible, claims WCF, because of all the data it collected from its member companies, including Cargill, Ferrero Group, Hershey, Mars, Mondelēz, Nestlé and Olam. WCF boasts that it now has 15,000 data points from its supply chain in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, and that information will allow the industry to adjust its strategy and those of its membership in order to generate more social impact within these countries.

The report, however, does not mention the potential risks climate change has on to the chocolate industry at all. It's quite the oversight, considering the the vast amount of research that has suggested the cocoa industry could face more difficulties in the coming years due to a more volatile climate. In fact, environmental concerns barely merit attention throughout the report. Meanwhile, just about every international organization, including the World Bank, has insisted that climate change risks will make it more difficult to tackle poverty across the world. And when it comes to this industry, Rainforest Alliance only a few weeks ago reminded chocolate lovers that a warming climate threatens to disrupt the lives of millions of smallholder cocoa farmers worldwide.

Unless WCF shows it has more of a plan to help farmers cope with climate change - after all, one of its member companies, Mars, recently promised to invest $1 billion in sustainable supply chain strategies in order to help its suppliers adapt to these risks - the organization's work on "groundbreaking collaboration," "aligning on priority issues," and work on "common interventions" will be for naught.

Image credit: World Agroforestry Centre/Flickr







Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye