- The Rainforest Alliance is strengthening its cocoa certification program, which will be published in June and rolled out during the next year. The group said in a release the goals are to enhance sustainability by increasing transparency and a shared responsibility for all parts of the cocoa sector.
- The alliance said the changes will help to address core challenges within the sector — farmer livelihoods, child labor and deforestation — beginning with the millions of smaller farmers producing cocoa. The enhanced program, based on two years of analysis about how the entire process evolved, will impose stricter audit rules and greater traceability and performance monitoring systems.
- The group also agreed to put more than $2 million toward improving transparency. It's also launching a $5 million Cocoa Sector Transformation Fund to support more sustainable cocoa farming in West and Central Africa.
This move by the Rainforest Alliance is meant to tighten up its certification for cocoa producers and improve traceability and sustainability for companies, governments, NGOs and other participants in the cocoa industry.
The steps — such as requiring each individual certified cocoa farmer to have specific GPS coordinates placed in its West African system — are meant to more equitably share the responsibility of increased sustainability. According to the alliance, unless more sharing is achieved, progress will be too slow.
The cocoa industry is facing a host of challenges, including overproduction, fluctuating prices, low farmer incomes, persistent child labor and negative impacts from climate change. However, consumer demand for cocoa products is increasing, so there are growing incentives to solve these problems in order to achieve a more transparent and sustainable sector. The U.S. market for chocolate is projected to eclipse $30 billion by 2021, according to TechSci Research.
Richard Scobey, president of the World Cocoa Foundation — a trade group representing some of the largest manufacturers in the industry — recently wrote in an opinion piece published in Food Dive that efforts to reduce child labor in the cocoa supply chain have had mixed results and that a new approach is "urgently" needed to fix the problem.
A Cocoa Barometer report from 2018 noted about 2.1 million children work on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast and Ghana, and commitments by companies and governments to reduce child labor 70% by this year will not be achieved. The report also found the average cocoa farmer makes about one-third of what constitutes a living income, and about 90% of West Africa's original forests have already been destroyed. In order for Rainforest Alliance's new goals to be effective, the group will need to be transparent about its progress going forward.
CPG companies such as Mars, Nestlé, Mondelez and Hershey have been playing a more positive role in the environmental and economic issues involved in cocoa production, but not all commitments have panned out. There are many reasons for confectionery makers to do more to improve cocoa production. They could see earnings losses if the cocoa supply isn't stabilized, and consumers might eventually have to pay higher prices at retail. Avoiding these potential outcomes is to everyone's benefit, so anything to make the cocoa supply chain more transparent and sustainable is likely to be a welcome development.
The Rainforest Alliance is not just strengthening its cocoa certification program. It is also putting $7 million into enhancing transparency and starting a transformation fund to help with more sustainable cocoa farming in parts of West and Central Africa where most of the world's supply is produced.
Whether the group's overall goals for the cocoa supply chain will be attained remains to be seen, but putting its money where its mouth is could turn out to be a more productive approach — especially if the move inspires additional players in the sector to follow suit.