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Weekly Comment

The ethical cocoa confusion

11-Feb-2008

While most consumers agree that ethically-sourced cocoa is no bad thing, an ever increasing number of different schemes risks muddying the issue and puzzling chocolate fans.

In this day and age Western chocolate buyers are increasingly aware of the effect our global food chain has on third world countries.

 

 

 

According to a 2007 UK Department for Environment, Rural and Food affairs (DEFRA), more than half of consumers in the country said that they try not to buy products whose ethics they disagree with. A slightly smaller proportion, 45 per cent, said they would be prepared to pay more for ethically-sourced food.

 

 

 

At first glance, companies seem to be taking these concerns on board. In the past fortnight alone, Cadbury announced its own Cocoa Partnership in Ghana, and Nestle and Mars signed up to the Good Inside Cocoa Programme, established by Utz Certified.

 

 

 

However, when added to Blommer's Cote d'Ivoire alliance of Farmers, Olam International and Blommer Chocolate (CIFOB), Cargill and Barry Callebaut's membership to the World Cocoa Foundation, as well as various Fairtrade certified companies such as Divine, the issue starts to become a lot more complicated.

 

 

 

While it would be churlish to suggest that programmes which in some way protect cocoa farmers are a bad idea, the more schemes there are around the globe, the harder it is to work out what exactly each one does.

 

 

 

Many consumers are aware, for example, that companies using the Fairtrade logo must pay the producer the minimum wage in that country or more.

 

 

 

But Cadbury, for example, has no such base level set in place, arguing instead that Ghanaian cocoa sells at 10 per cent above the market rate because of its high quality - a level above the Fairtrade floor.

 

 

 

What happens, though, if one year the crop value falls because of, say, poor weather conditions?

 

 

 

Another pertinent issue, one rarely explored, is who regulates these programmes, as Fairtrade is the only independently audited ethical trading scheme, according to Divine.

 

 

 

However, even if the generous-minded of us are willing to believe that these schemes often do good, as chocolate multinationals are not always as villainous as often thought, how are consumers meant to spot which products are ethical and which are not?

 

 

 

(Incidentally, the issue of big business and profit is almost irrelevant here; firms such as Cadbury have never denied that schemes such as the Cocoa Partnership in Ghana were established to help boost activity, despite what many disgruntled bloggers think).

 

 

 

While consumers can read countless company statements and articles on the subject, what really screams "I'm ethical!" is a label.

 

 

 

Fairtrade has one, that nifty green and blue symbol that features on the side of food packets, but many of the others do not. Cadbury is currently 'working on communications', while the Utz Certified Good Inside Cocoa Programme label is voluntary.

 

 

 

Therefore Mars and Nestle are under no obligation to state whether the cocoa used in their products comes from farmers protected by Utz or not. Do they expect consumers just to take their word for it?

 

 

 

In short, rather than confusing the issue further in future, industry players must therefore work with each other, as well as the farmers, to not only come up with a more consistent standard of how cocoa suppliers are treated, but also a fair way of indicating the supply chain to consumers.

 

 

 

It would be desperately sad if the Western consumer started to take a jaded and cynical view of the issue of ethical cocoa supply, and if a day comes when nobody has faith in how companies treat the suppliers, it will not only be the farmers who lose out.

 

 

Charlotte Eyre is the editor of Confectionerynews.com and Bakeryandsnacks.com. She has lived and worked in the UK and France.

 

 

If you would like to comment on this article, please e-mail charlotte.eyre'at'decisionnews.com