The Voice Network organisation has published the 2020 Cocoa Barometer report, highlighting that challenges in the cocoa sector are “as large as they have ever been”. The publication outlines necessary steps governments and industry should take to end deforestation and human rights abuse in cocoa supply chains. Kennedy’s explores.

As a biennial review of sustainability in the cocoa sector, the 2020 Cocoa Barometer report provides stark details of how little positive impact current and past interventions are having for the farmers at the beginning of the supply chain.

This latest update on the sector has highlighted that “20 years into rhetoric” the challenges remain “as large as ever”. It stresses that poverty is still rife for most of (if not all) West African cocoa farmer families, child labour is still a serious problem and that old growth forests “continue to be cleared to make way for cocoa production”.

Thanks to campaigning civil society organisations, the last two years have seen an increasing number of chocolate companies asking for regulation; significant global actors like the EU are committed to putting legislation in place; and the world’s two largest producers of cocoa, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, have formed a cartel to drive up the price for cocoa farmers.

“After two decades of voluntary initiatives that do not tackle the root causes, it is time for systemic change in the sector. All the ingredients are there to make it work, but it is now time to move forward, and put in place ambitious, holistic and mandatory change, so that we can finally tackle the poverty, child labour and deforestation in cocoa.”

Cocoa Barometer co-author Antonie C. Fountain of the VOICE Network

The report finds that the last two decades of interventions have failed for three main reasons.

The first is that efforts have been voluntary and not mandatory, meaning many across the sector are failing to do what is needed. In addition, there are no penalties for noncompliance from governments or enforcements to meet targets.

However, those at the bottom – cocoa farmers often living below the poverty line – do lose their sustainable cocoa certification if they do not comply.

The report author’s state: “Whilst we’ve seen a significant increase in regulatory processes and commitments to due diligence, they are limited without accountability, transparency and equitable enforcement.”

The second reason is that whilst bad farming practice has been addressed, the underlying problems that contribute to extreme poverty – such as low cocoa prices, lack of infrastructure and no transparency and accountability as you move higher in the supply chain – remain unchallenged and unsolved.

The Cocoa Barometer explains that there needs to be recognition that in its current form, the business model for high yields of cocoa means “poverty for farmers and excessive profit for chocolate manufacturers”.

The third reason outlined in the Cocoa Barometer report is that efforts to solve complex issues of injustice and unsustainability in the cocoa sector have not been inclusive or holistic enough.

It states that “instead of inviting farmers and civic society to take a respected seat at the decision-making table”, problems have been assessed using a “top-down industry-based approach” – serving the interests of industry and government, rather than the producer farmers and their communities.

Isaac Gyamfi, managing director for Solidaridad in West Africa, commented: “We are at the crossroads. Do we continue skirting around the issue of farmers wellbeing, or will all stakeholders together radically redesign value distribution and decision making in the cocoa sector? Let’s make space at the table and assure a living income, for both farmers and workers.”

In light of these findings, the report makes three recommendations:

  1. Regulation that changes the system, rather than penalising the farmers
    The report advocates for systems change and regulation that creates an enabling environment. Current forms of certification and farm-based standards increase pressure on farmers: instead, the report states that we need laws that hold the powerful accountable, rather than systems that demand farmers to solve systemic issues.
  2.  Effective partnerships between producer and consumer countries
    The Cocoa Barometer calls for partnership agreements between producer and consumer countries that facilitate and finance system change, ensuring the right policies are in place. It states 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. Deliver on a fair price for farmers
    The report outlines that the single biggest positive impact for farmers and incentive for farming sustainably is delivering a fair price for the cocoa they produce. Cocoa and chocolate companies must find ways to redistribute value along the supply chain so that farmers are guaranteed a living income.

“Efforts of sector players to change the story of farmers keep on beating about the bush when evidence presents to us the plight of farmers, thus, low income from their hard work is a major threat to cocoa sustainability….

“Processors, chocolate manufacturing companies and retailers who earn a large chunk from the value chain must be fair to farmers by paying a living income and this must reach the farmer”.

Sandra Sarkwah, Coordinator for the Ghana Civil-Society Cocoa Platform (GCCP), supports the publication of the Cocoa Barometer 2020