All the cocoa used in UK and Irish Mars Bars will be Fairtrade-certified from this autumn.

Announcing the move today (20 February), Mars Chocolate UK said it would also be the first UK company to commit to Fairtrade’s new Cocoa Sourcing Programme as it looked to ensure its entire cocoa supply was produced in a sustainable manner by 2020. Mars, which already makes Maltesers with Fairtrade cocoa – while its Galaxy brand is Rainforest Alliance-certified - said the amount it paid in premiums to Fairtrade cocoa cooperatives in West Africa would rise to more than $2m (£1.3m) a year by 2016.

The company said that, under the new Cocoa Sourcing Programme, farmers would be “empowered both financially and with expert support”. Fairtrade co-operatives will invest certification premiums in a productivity package that includes training, fertilisers and improved high-yielding and disease-resistant crops, to enable Fairtrade farmers to “dramatically increase their yields and incomes helping to enhance local livelihoods”. An initial project with one of the cooperative groups supplying the cocoa for Mars Bars will begin in 2015, and Mars and Fairtrade International have pledged to extend the programme to more West African cocoa co-operatives over the coming years.

“I’m really proud that our iconic Mars Bar brand is at the forefront of Fairtrade’s new Cocoa Sourcing Programme,” said Mars Chocolate UK president Blas Maquivar. “It’s a crucial next step in our global commitment to certify that 100% of our cocoa has been produced in a sustainable manner by 2020 and it means our top three UK chocolate brands now source certified cocoa, supporting farmers to improve productivity and yields and ultimately leading to improved income and better quality of life for farmers, their families and their communities.

Fairtrade Foundation chief executive Mike Gidney said the foundation was entering “a new era” in its work with cocoa farmers in West Africa.

“We are increasingly connecting forward-looking businesses like Mars more directly to entrepreneurial cocoa co-operatives who themselves want to be at the forefront of product quality, productivity and rural community improvement,” he added. “ Cocoa farmers constantly tell us they’re anxious to sell more of their crops on Fairtrade terms, and we know how it can start to change their lives when they receive fairer rewards for their efforts.”