Cocoa sourcing child labour

Source: Getty Images

Cocoa supply chains in Ghana and Ivory Coast have been plagued with child labour accusations for years

Kellogg’s, Mondelez and Tesco are among the big names slammed for their opaque chocolate sourcing in a new survey of the world’s largest cocoa buyers.

The research, led by a coalition of charities and universities, showed that many food businesses such as Kellogg’s and Starbucks still lagged behind in areas like deforestation, living income and child labour.

Others, like Tesco, Mondelez and Unilever, have been accused of a general lack of transparency for refusing to share information about their supply chains for the industry-wide survey.

“The grim reality is that around 40% of cocoa remains untraceable,” said Julian Oram, a senior director at Mighty Earth Africa. “Companies are sitting on information that could shed light on to these ‘dark’ chocolate origins.

“It begs the question, what are they hiding?” Oram continued. “There are massive companies who source a lot of cocoa and they aren’t willing to be transparent about where the cocoa comes from because, frankly, they don’t really know their supply chains well enough.”

Almost two thirds of global cocoa comes from Ghana and Ivory Coast, with both countries – and the multinational companies trading with them – often receiving fierce criticism for the failure to address systemic claims of child labour, illegal deforestation and worker exploitation.

Unilever, along with Mondelez and Tesco, did not take part in this year’s scoreboard despite doing so for previous editions. Unilever said it supported the Chocolate Scorecard’s ambitions but found the analysis method did not allow it to convey its approach to cocoa sourcing.

“We are transparent with our approach to cocoa sourcing on our websites, where we indicate that 99% of our cocoa is sourced through certification schemes. While this is great progress, we’re committed to going further by working with others to tackle the endemic issues associated with the cocoa industry.”

Tesco did not respond to two requests for comment.

 A Kellogg’s spokeswoman said the company was “committed to responsibly sourcing our top priority ingredients in ways that are environmentally, socially and economically responsible” and was working towards 100% responsibly sourced cocoa.

Mondelez also said it invested and worked with partners in cocoa-producing countries to “help tackle the interconnected challenges cocoa farmers and their communities face and make cocoa sourcing more sustainable” through its Cocoa Life programme.

“Our focus is on the next chapter of Cocoa Life, which is why in 2022 we announced our investment of an additional $600m through 2030 for a total $1bn investment since the start of the programme in 2012, with the goal to increase our programme to work with around 300,000 cocoa farmers by 2030,” the spokeswoman said.

Original Beans, a craft chocolate made from some of the world’s rarest cacao, came top in the survey as the only company with top scores across all areas. Tony’s Chocoloney also scored strongly. 

Original Beans founder Philipp Kauffmann on craft chocolate and ethical trade

However, the lack of transparency shown by other food businesses was hindering efforts to halt the human rights abuses and environmental destruction present in cocoa supply chains, said Fuzz Kitto, director at Be Slavery Free. “The bulldozers won’t stop until business and governments deal with the root causes: a lack of traceability and transparency in supply chains and of a living income for farmers.

“Deforestation, child labour and pesticide use are all symptoms of the two fundamental issues.”

Last year, Nestlé announced a $1.4bn plan involving direct payouts to African cocoa farmers to try and tackle the root issues leading to child labour in its cocoa supply chains.

It came after campaign group International Rights Advocates filed a lawsuit against the agri-commodity trader Cargill, which made it to the US Supreme Court before being dismissed.

Nestlé and some of its biggest rival chocolate makers, such as Mars-Wrigley and Hershey, have improved their Chocolate Scoreboard performance since last year.

Nestlé cocoa supply

Source: Nestlé

Nestlé has announced a $1.4bn plan to tackle the root issues leading to child labour in its cocoa supply chains

But Mighty Earth’s senior adviser for cocoa in Ghana, Sam Mawutor, said that buying organic certified cocoa and focusing on individual action was not enough, and that companies needed to engage in collaborative action to drive widespread and lasting change in sourcing countries.

”The biggest frustration is that these companies are picking and choosing which initiatives they want, but the easiest way to reach full traceability in Ghana is to have a national traceability system,” Mawutor said, which required collaboration between chocolate buyers and governments.

Oram added: “We see a lot of companies doing things individually and they all talk about the need for collaboration but they don’t really do it – they don’t share their supply chain data enough, they don’t do the joint farm level monitoring enough and they certainly don’t engage in collective living income initiatives to address the question of pricing.”

The fourth edition of the survey rated companies on their policies and practices across six key issue areas: deforestation and climate, traceability, living income, child labour, pesticide use and agroforestry.

The companies surveyed included some of the world’s largest cocoa buyers, including suppliers, manufacturers and, for the first time, retailers selling own-brand chocolate products. Together they account about 95% of global chocolate products.