The chocolate industry is worth billions of dollars, and yet, most cocoa farmers in West Africa live in poverty, enabling exploitation to thrive.
As consumers demand greater sustainability from their favorite chocolate brands, the wealthiest players in the cocoa value chain are putting the burden of change on the poorest players without addressing the stark imbalance of resources, risk and power.
In an article for Forbes, Christine Ro unpacks the findings of the latest Cocoa Barometer, explaining how higher farmgate prices for cocoa are essential if the chocolate industry is to improve on sustainability.
Farmers must earn more
It is no secret that poverty drives farmers to take their children out of school to work and to use unsustainable farming practices, such as the clearing of old growth trees. Without significantly higher incomes for farmers, the barometer affirms, the industry will not succeed in tackling major issues, such as child labor, forced labor and deforestation.
Many big chocolate companies have made public statements on the need for a living income for cocoa farmers. However, no large chocolate or cocoa companies are paying higher farmgate prices for cocoa, according to the report.
The productivity myth
Despite decades of sustainability initiatives, poverty is still endemic. The barometer argues that these programs have failed due to their misplaced focus on increased productivity as a means of increasing income. Forbes reports:
One problem is that much of the conversation has focused on increasing productivity: each farmer producing more cocoa. But this doesn’t meaningfully increase small farmers’ income in practice, as more supply drives down prices. And making a decent living conditional on higher production means that farmers can’t count on a stable income.
Furthermore, to produce more cocoa, farms require more labor. If farmers are to hire adult laborers to help, they will need to be earning enough to be able to pay them a living income too.
The need for changes to purchasing practices
The solution is clear, according to Antonie Fountain, co-author of the barometer and managing director of cocoa watchdog, VOICE Network: “We need to start challenging the purchasing practices of the large companies.”
Companies must pay more to farmers for cocoa. As Ismail Pomasi, a member of a cocoa cooperative in Ghana, argues, “pricing is the engine of sustainability.”
Moreover, contracts must better address the risks faced by farmers, the actors with the lowest ability to absorb risk.
Call for a living income price
At the time of writing, almost 180,000 people are calling on chocolate companies to commit to paying a living income price for cocoa. Help make our collective voice even stronger: sign the petition today.