Taking a Closer Look at Today’s Cocoa Industry


by reece.vanbreda

Robert Desson is Fairtrade Canada’s Account Manager. By demonstrating the added value of being a Fairtrade brand here in Canada, he encourages companies to engage further with the Fairtrade system and promote their Fairtrade certification. In turn, this can lead to stronger, long-term commitments to support producers.

Can you tell us a bit about what you do as Account Manager with Fairtrade Canada? Has your work with Fairtrade brands and producers shifted the way you see chocolate in your personal life?

My role as Account Manager is to support Canadian companies grow their business and sales of their Fairtrade offering. In addition to exploring possible ways to support the growth of our Fairtrade brands with new business and marketing opportunities, I also encourage companies to participate in Fairtrade Month and Fair Trade Campus Week. These are our two largest annual campaigns where we work with brands, retailers, distributors, and the Canadian Fair Trade Programs to raise consumer awareness of Fairtrade and our work towards trade justice.

Purchasing Fairtrade chocolate has been a part of my life for quite some time now, but being fortunate enough to work within this organisation has given me the opportunity to fully understand and interact with cocoa supply chains myself. I have become more knowledgeable and vocal about the problems of child labour and modern-day slavery within the cocoa industry, outside of work with my friends and family. Another change I have noticed since I started working with Fairtrade Canada, is that I find it hard to walk down the chocolate aisle without scoping out which Fairtrade brands are being stocked, even when I am not shopping for chocolate!

We know that 70% of the world’s cocoa beans come from West Africa. What is the current situation in producing countries like Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana? And as we enter the fourth month of the global pandemic that is COVID-19, do we have a better idea of how this has affected cocoa producers and what the long-term impacts may be?

The impacts of COVID-19 are unfortunately constantly evolving. While both Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire have had relatively low COVID-19 cases and deaths, there is no way of telling whether there will be a large outbreak or not in the coming months. This makes the long-term impacts on cocoa producers very difficult and unpredictable.

Most Small Producer Organisations (SPO) have just finished suppling pre-existing contracts from 2019/20, but there is a possibility that the current situation could affect next season’s projected volumes. Additionally, although demand for chocolate has remained steady here in Canada, cocoa is used by countless companies around the globe in many different product categories, all of which are being affected differently by the pandemic, making it even harder to predict what the 2020/21 contracts will look like.

For the time being, Fairtrade has announced the launch of a Fairtrade Producer Relief Fund and the establishment of a Fairtrade Producer Resilience Fund. The Fairtrade Producer Relief Fund is being allocated to the three Producer Networks to provide immediate support to producers most in need, whilst the Fairtrade Producer Resilience Fund is intended to tackle long-term challenges that producers may face in the aftermath of COVID-19.

Despite the circumstances, we are already seeing some brilliant acts of community support from cocoa cooperatives where some are using their Fairtrade Premium to provide soap, sanitizer, and masks for the surrounding communities.

As the pandemic continues to unfold on a daily basis, Fairtrade International and the Producer Organisations will continue to monitor and update us with their findings.

What is Fairtrade’s role in supporting cocoa farmers of West Africa and how has Fairtrade worked with producers in achieving a Living Income for farmers?

In 2016, Fairtrade launched the West Africa Cocoa Programme (WACP), which seeks to build cohesive and organised Small Producer Organisations (SPOs) that help to develop long-term commitments and partnerships with trade partners. With the integral support of Fairtrade Africa and SPOs, this programme offers group training sessions to help SPOs maintain their Fairtrade certification and to ensure they are in compliance with the relevant Standards. In 2019, 34,419 members and management attended these training sessions, which was a 38% increase from 2018.

In 2017, Fairtrade developed a Living Income Strategy which aims to provide farmers with a sufficient income to afford a decent standard of living. Having assessed the costs and needs of cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, Fairtrade has developed a Living Income Reference Price which calculates the price needed for farmers to earn a living income. Through helping farmers to better understand their production costs, sustainable agriculture practices, and the benefits of a well-managed Small Producer Organisation (SPO), this strategy aims to support farmers in developing long-term programmes and planning in order to run a more efficient, productive, and profitable business model.

Simultaneously, Fairtrade International and the National Fairtrade Organisations (NFOs) will continue advocating and working alongside governments, like-minded companies, and civil society in order to make paying a living income to farmers the norm. The current situation with COVID-19 highlights how much the WACP and work towards living income is needed.

With both programmes working successfully in tandem, we look forward to reporting more progress towards a living income and stronger SPOs in the coming years.

Another part of Fairtrade’s work in cocoa is addressing gender inequalities. We know that women face many barriers when trying to become leaders in the local communities. How is Fairtrade addressing these challenges?

Despite their strong presence and role in farming, many women often have less access to training, credit, information, and land ownership, making it more challenging for women to have leadership roles within companies. This only perpetuates the cycle of female disempowerment and gender imbalances within agricultural communities.

Fairtrade is actively working against discrimination and gender imbalances in order to encourage women’s empowerment and opportunities for leadership roles. The Fairtrade Standards already forbid the following: discrimination on the basis of gender or marital status, sexually intimidating or abusive behaviour, and pregnancy tests upon recruitment. Beyond the Fairtrade Standards are Fairtrade Premium projects set up solely to support women entrepreneurs and encourage their empowerment.

However, the Fairtrade Standards are just the minimum steps and building blocks taken towards gender equality. In addition to our Living Income Strategy encouraging gender equality and decision making, Fairtrade launched the Women’s School of Leadership (WSOL) in 2016. This programme, now operating in several countries, is a year-long course where women, as well as men, learn about the challenges women face in the cocoa industry and essential business skills such as finance, negotiation, and group decision-making. The programme is currently being implemented in Côte d’Ivoire where graduates from the school have already gone on to be elected to committee positions and become advocates for gender equality within their communities and cooperatives.

With increased interest and participants each year, there are also new Schools planned to launch in different countries and locations in order to continue encouraging women’s empowerment throughout the Fairtrade system.  


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