Insights from the World Cocoa Conference

The 5th World Cocoa Conference was held in Brussels from April 21st to 24th, bringing together stakeholders across the global value chain to convene and discuss strategies for addressing the most pressing challenges in the cocoa sector. Co-hosted by the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO)and the Kingdom of Belgium, this year’s conference was titled “Paying more for a Sustainable Cocoa” and included a range of sessions that highlighted supply chain and decent work challenges in the global cocoa sector with a focus on sustainability and equity. From global confectionary executives and suppliers to cooperative employees and farm workers, there were representatives from every part of the supply chain in the room. Key issues were organized into three priority tracks — sustainable development, market development, and governance – each of which included a variety of panels for attendees on the second day. 
 
The record-high price of cocoa was at the center of this year’s discussions, as retailers and confectionaries expressed concerns over its impact on the global market. This contributed to the increased programming around living incomes and cocoa pricing, which were less focal in previous years. For years, civil society organizations representing cocoa farmers have conveyed the need for increased wages, citing that the current rates for farmers are unlivable. This year, attendees saw commercial and political leaders, including the queen of Belgium, contributing to the conversation, taking time in their addresses to promote the need for fair wages.  
 
On average, cocoa farmers earn just 6% of the final value of a bar of chocolate. The prevalence of child labor, harsh working conditions, and unfair wages are just a few of the sector’s challenges that disproportionately affect producers. Like other agrifood system workers, cocoa farmers lack social protections due to the informal nature of their employment. The spotlight on these decent work issues at the conference is an exciting development, representing increasing concern for the position of agri-food workers in the supply chain.  In the conference proceedings, multilateral leaders advocated for multi-stakeholder efforts to empower cocoa farmers. The Director of the ILO Priority Action committee, Frédéric Lapeyre, echoed the queen’s sentiments, emphasizing that a living income must be secured for cocoa workers and their families to achieve sustainability, which means there must be “fair remuneration for the fruit of their work as well as an extension of social protection coverage”.
 
Coordinated efforts across stakeholders are essential to ensuring livelihoods for workers in agri-food systems. Representatives at the conference observed that there was an increased commitment to building partnerships, which can be attributed to the success of country initiatives for sustainable cocoa (ISCOs). Angelika Kessler – CARE Netherland’s West Africa Program Manager – noted the elevated position of civil society as an ISCO effect that has been remarkable to observe.  According to Angelika, there was a more collaborative and integrative spirit amongst the different groups of stakeholders at this conference than had been the case before and during the pandemic. 
 
 “Being asked [to participate], being listened to, and contributing to the discussion is a huge mark of progress we did not have in years before.” – Angelika Kessler, CARE Netherlands 
 
Thanks to the cooperative work of ISCOs, she said, there is greater space for civil society to be heard. Toumai Kafri, Associate Director of Corporate Partnerships at CARE, shared similar insights about the value of having a place for all players to converge. “Because the risks in the cocoa supply chain are so complicated and high stakes, the fact that there is a space to meet and disagree is so important.”
 
 Although there were panels on fair wages and an event-wide focus on living incomes, the subject of gender was notably absent from the main agenda. Female labour is a crucial part of the sector and intersects with other decent work issues. Most landowners in cocoa-producing regions are men, and women are often excluded from the formal supply chain, meaning their contributions to the sector undervalued and underrecognized. According to Toumai, “One forum on the role of women in cocoa is not enough; a gender lens should be present in all discussions. Starting with women and addressing gender inequality in the cocoa workforce will affect other decent work concerns like child labour and who makes decisions over household labor and incomes.”  The conference closed with the WCC5 Brussels Declaration presented by the Head of the ICCO, which outlined the sector’s priorities for sustainable development, market development, and governance. The declaration has yet to be published publicly, but it will be promote it on the Coalition website following its release. 

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Brussels, Belgium

A gender lens should be present in all discussions. Starting with women and addressing gender inequality in the cocoa workforce will affect other decent work concerns like child labour and who makes decisions over household labor and incomes.