By Bart van Besien, policy officer Oxfam-Wereldwinkels (Belgium)
The cocoa sector met in Berlin and gathered behind an ambitious agenda, now it is time for action.
“Business as usual in the cocoa sector is no longer an option. We have to break the mould.”
At the 4th World Cocoa Conference (WCC4) (22 to 25 April 2018), the entire sector agreed to the same agenda to guarantee farmers a living income as a human right and to stop deforestation. The declaration and the recommendations must now be translated into decisive action plans; otherwise, within a few years, we will again have to sketch the same gloomy picture of farmers in extreme poverty. "The time to act is now"
"The growth of sustainability initiatives has not contributed to better living conditions for cocoa farmers." In his inaugural address, Dr. Jean-Marc Anga, Executive Director of the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) set the tone of the conference. The price crash of 2017 and the resulting increase in poverty made it painfully clear that the existing initiatives and good intentions are not enough to make the cocoa sector sustainable. Again in the words of Dr. Anga: "Business as usual is no longer an option".
Living income and human rights
The Berlin declaration recognizes that the cocoa sector is only sustainable if farmers earn a living income. That sounds logical, but in the cocoa sector it can cause a small revolution. A recent study by Fairtrade International showed that farmers in Ivory Coast earn on average only 1/3rd of such a living income.
By increasing the cocoa yield per hectare and income diversification (by encouraging farmers to also grow other crops), we will of course not bridge the income gap of 2/3rd. That is why Fairtrade's study also points to the need to raise prices. For decades the chocolate industry has resisted this idea, by referring to competition laws. These laws were created to protect consumers against price fixing. Therefore, the WCC4 calls for a revision of competition laws to protect both consumers and producers.
The efforts to combat child labor and its root causes must be stepped up. Since child labor and living income for farmer are matters of human rights, the Berlin declaration makes a call on governments of consuming natins. They must develop legislative instrumentsto ensure the protection of human rights throughout the entire supply chain (human rights due diligence).
The cocoa-producing countries are also called upon for urgent action. At the start of the conference, Dr. Anga already asked for better coordination between producer countries.
"How is it possible that 4 countries produce 75% of the cocoa in the world and yet have no influence on the price?"
One month before the conference, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, the two most important cocoa producing countries, announced a collaborative initiative. The importance of success for this cooperation should not be underestimated.
The most important actor in the cocoa production chain is, of course, the cocoa farmer. He still earns only 6% of the entire chain. To put it differently: the cocoa sector is worth $ 100 billion annually, of which the more than 5 million farmers together receive only $6 billion. Farmers' organizations must be regarded as equal business partners with whom the conditions of cocoa trade are negotiated. Today, the welfare of cocoa farmers is still perceived as a charity project. It is necessary to strengthen farmers' organizations so they change can come from the bottom up.
The time to act is now
The Berlin declaration ends with "The time to act is now". The objectives and recommendations are clear, that is a step forward. However, we underline the need for a concrete action plan that lives up to the ambition. The actions have to be transparent, inclusive and time bound. Without transparency, there cannot be accountability.