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Sustainable Cocoa for an Ethical Easter?

The week surrounding Easter has the highest consumption of chocolate in the year. For environmentalists, it can be a bitter reminder that many of the world’s primary regions for growing cocoa are experiencing dramatic decline in forest cover as land is cleared for agriculture. Cocoa is the top driver of deforestation in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire; countries that also rank 1st and 3rd for the highest rates of deforestation in all of Africa.

The week surrounding Easter has the highest consumption of chocolate in the year. For environmentalists, it can be a bitter reminder that many of the world’s primary regions for growing cocoa are experiencing dramatic decline in forest cover as land is cleared for agriculture. Cocoa is the top driver of deforestation in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire; countries that also rank 1st and 3rd for the highest rates of deforestation in all of Africa.

Organizations have responded by providing guides consumers can use to make more informed decisions when buying their Easter sweets. HowGood released a summary of different candy and the companies behind them, with a particular focus on “problem ingredients” such as palm oil and artificial colors and flavors. HowGood’s team was not very impressed by any of the major chocolate producers it looked at: Hershey, Mondelēz International, Lindt & Sprüngli, Just Born (maker of Peeps), and Grupo Bimbo. Small, heavily certified treats from brands Righteously Raw, Pleasant Grove and Raaka are recommended as alternatives.

Click to view the full-sized scorecards.

Campaign organization Mighty Earth created a more comprehensive guide for consumers with scorecards summarizing their research. Each company was scored based on three criteria: first, have they signed onto the Cocoa & Forests Initiative to overhaul environmental practices for cocoa in West Africa? Second, do they have a worldwide agroforestry policy that supports “shade-grown” bird-friendly cocoa? And third, has the company extended its commitment beyond West Africa to protect forests all over the world, refusing to buy deforestation cocoa no matter where it’s from? For each of these questions, chocolate companies, retailers and cocoa suppliers were given a green “good egg” for leadership, yellow egg where improvements are needed, and a red “bad egg” for poor or a lack of policies.

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Meanwhile, Mondelēz International, which received a ‘yellow’ overall evaluation from Mighty Earth, has announced that the OREO brand will be covered by the company’s sustainable cocoa sourcing programme, Cocoa Life from the end of March. The Cocoa Life logo will be present across the full range of OREO packs by the end of this year.

Mondelēz announced last year that it would be transitioning the Cadbury and the Velvet Edition range of Green & Black’s brands’ products to the new program. Cadbury’s entire line of offerings in the UK and Ireland — including Flake, Twirl and Wispa — will bear Cocoa Life branding by 2019. Companies’ shifts to in-house programs such as Cocoa Life and Sainsbury’s ‘Fairly Traded’ have been met with some criticism due to fears that they will destabilize the existing producer-buyer relationships under the Fairtrade system. Companies, on the other hand, claim that they simply want to scale their sustainable sourcing efforts at a faster pace than the current Fairtrade supply allows.

For its part, Mondelēz says the expansion of the Cocoa Life will support more cocoa farmers, their families, and their communities. One of the main ways the program achieves this is by helping communities develop their own tailored action plans around five desired outcomes: raise yield and incomes from farming; improve business skills and add more sources of income; improve communities based on local families’ needs; increase youth interest in cocoa farming; and protect ecosystems and farmland for future generations.

“To bring the iconic OREO brand under Cocoa Life is a special moment for us as we continue to expand the programme and move closer to our target of empowering 200,000 farmers and reaching one million people in cocoa-growing communities by 2022,” said Glenn Caton, President, Northern Europe at Mondelēz International.

“Through Cocoa Life, we want to become an accountable partner for our cocoa farmers, not just a buyer. Cocoa Life truly transforms communities by delivering real and measurable improvements for cocoa farmers. Independent assessments show that we are having a genuine impact and seeing the Cocoa Life logo on the front of packs will give consumers the confidence that whenever they buy an OREO product they are making a real difference to people’s lives.”

From its inception in 2012 to the end of 2016, the program reached 92,000 cocoa farmers in 861 communities in Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, Brazil, Dominican Republic, and India. Among its highlight achievements: 854 of the communities delivered action plans to improve education, healthcare, infrastructure, and other priorities; and 1,200 Village Savings and Loans Schemes were established, with 22,300 community members of which approximately 80% are women.

Cocoa Life communities saw particularly positive gains in Ghana, where cocoa yield increased 37% more and farmer income increased 49% more than in communities outside the programme. More gains are likely yet to come thanks to the recent government approval of tree tenure for some 150 cocoa farmers in Ghana, allowing them to own shade trees on their property and include timber in their business plans.

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