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Supply Chain
Why Self-Regulation of Cocoa Sourcing Is a Conflict of Interest

Without oversight or a watchdog, what imperative do companies have to make a tangible impact on the livelihoods of cocoa farmers over increasing profit margins? 

Chocolate is so beloved and ubiquitous that people often forget it is a tropical treat only grown in certain regions of the world. Cocoa farmers in West Africa — where two-thirds of the world’s supply is sourced — have long struggled with extreme poverty and child labor abuses. Cocoa farmers are often living on less than $2/day, fighting the effects of climate change and living with limited infrastructure — they already have too little bargaining power. Now, a growing movement toward self-regulation by chocolate manufacturers is aimed at replacing strict yet effective standards in supply chain monitoring. This may mean a loss of individual income for cocoa producers, as well as additional payments Fairtrade offers to invest in programs that strengthen their communities, such as education or healthcare. 

In the almost twenty years since the passing of the Harkin-Engel Protocol, chocolate manufacturers have pledged to eradicate child labor from their supply chains, but little progress has been made. A Fairtrade report found that cocoa farming households in Cote D’Ivoire earn less than $2,800 per year. The poverty and child labor issues in cocoa production are complex and require a long-term commitment to paying fair prices, along with offering supportive resources to help farmers create strong cooperatives and communities. 

Fairtrade International’s rigorous standards and auditing process ensure cocoa farmers receive fair wages and working conditions, while internally set sustainability measures and implementation programs can foster moving-target benchmarks, limited transparency and biased reporting. Without oversight or a watchdog, what imperative do companies have to make a tangible impact on the livelihoods of cocoa farmers over increasing profit margins? 

Fairtrade America wants to help both cocoa farmers and chocolate companies implement effective and ethical sourcing practices that help resolve the systemic poverty and child labor issues in the cocoa industry. With the COVID-19 pandemic increasing incidences of child labor in cocoa farming communities due to school closures and income losses, companies that profit from the world’s appetite for chocolate should support farmers now more than ever.

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