Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

Cocoa farmers deserve a taste of sweet success

Our sweet tooth for chocolate should benefit the people who make it, not just multinationals, says Jim Clarken

When money's tight and hard to get, a pint of plain's your only man, Flann O'Brien wrote. But looking for relief from current struggles, more people are turning to chocolate than they are to stout.

Even as consumer spending has shrunk, people here continue to eat more chocolate per head of population than any other country on earth. And we're not the only ones who've turned to it in dark times.

Around the world, Mars, Mondelez (formerly Cadbury's) and Nestle, who control 40% of the global cocoa market, drove chocolate sales past $100bn (£66bn) for the first time in 2011.

But a boom for producers has not translated into a better life for the more than 5.5 million small-scale farmers who currently supply 90% of the world's cocoa.

Farmers get just 3.2% of the price of a chocolate bar, with a farmer in the Ivory Coast earning just $342 a year (£225) for his efforts.

Outside Africa, malnutrition is rife in cocoa-growing regions of Indonesia. Stunting – where children are too short for their age as a result of poor diet and health – has reached 40% in the cocoa-growing areas of the country. Things must change. By investing in and protecting the rights of cocoa farmers and workers, companies must work to secure their supply chains and reputations, while helping millions of people out of poverty.

Mars, Mondelez and Nestle have all made attempts in this direction, through certifications like Fairtrade and by increasing investments in select company programmes.

Mars, for example, made an ambitious promise in 2009 to use 100% certified cocoa by 2020 and Nestle has committed to 100% certified sourcing.

Other attempts to increase the yields of cocoa farmers and reduce the incidents of child labour should also be applauded. Yet serious questions remain about the efficacy of many initiatives. Questions have already been raised about the ability of these programmes to truly address child labour.

According to the latest figures, almost 820,000 children in the Ivory Coast and more than 997,000 in Ghana were working on cocoa-related activities during a 12-month period in 2007/8.

Child labour will only end when adult labourers in the field earn a wage from which they can feed their families. And if they continue to make less than $2 (£1.30) a day, that will never happen. An important step in that direction would be to focus on women on farms.

This is why Oxfam has launched the Behind The Brands campaign, which ranks the world's 10 largest food and beverage companies on a range of issues – from how they treat women to the presence of child labour in their supply chains.

The issue of women is one of the most pertinent, as illustrated by how they are treated on cocoa farms. In West Africa, women do nearly half of the labour on cocoa farms, but own just a quarter of the land. This is important, because when men own cocoa farms, women tend to be unpaid employees. Increasing women's incomes could have a profound impact on entire communities, as women are more likely than men to spend their income on improving the family's health and nutrition.

In the Ivory Coast, a study found that increasing a woman's salary by $10 (£6.60) would bring about the same positive impacts in child health and nutrition that would require a $110 (£72.50) increase in men's income. It could also lead to a boost in yields.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that just giving women the same access as men to agricultural resources could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by up to 150 million.

For all of these reasons, Oxfam is calling on Mars, Mondelez and Nestle to lead the way in forging equality for women in the cocoa industry and across the entire supply chain.

A growing taste for chocolate should not just benefit companies and their shareholders. It should be good news for the people who make the ingredients for their products, too. Holding on to our sweet tooth demands it.

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