Ingredients Insight: Can you tell us what ‘sustainable’ means to your business and its vision?

Daan de Vries: For UTZ, the term ‘sustainable’ embraces three areas: economic, social and environmental. Our vision is to make a world where sustainable farming is demanded and rewarded, where workers’ rights in the agricultural sector are respected and where the protection of natural resources is guaranteed. In the past five years, companies have started to realise that the vitality of cocoa production is fundamental for their own business and that without collective action, this will be at risk. Child labour has been very much in the public eye since 2000, but the sustainability agenda is now more holistic.

Taco Terheijden: In cocoa, there’s clear recognition and understanding among all those in the sector around the need and value of supporting long-term, sustainable cocoa production. Many of the six to seven million smallholder farmers that provide the world’s cocoa are struggling with aging trees, low yields and unproductive farms; at the same time, the demand for cocoa is rising steadily at a rate of 2-3% a year. Sustainability is also of growing interest to consumers, who increasingly want to know how chocolate products are made and where they come from. As a result, a sustainable supply chain has become a focus for many in the industry, working together with farmers, governments, NGOs and international institutions. Cargill’s commitment to sustainable cocoa is integral to our business; it is essential that farmers continue to succeed and that cocoa is produced sustainably so that we can continue to serve consumers around the world and have a thriving cocoa sector for generations to come.

Our ambition is to accelerate progress toward a transparent global cocoa supply chain, enable farmers to achieve better incomes and living standards, and deliver a sustainable supply of cocoa and chocolate.

How does the sector compare today with a decade ago?

DdV: Ten years ago, we were the ones approaching companies to convince them to source sustainable cocoa. Today, more companies are taking the lead, not only in sourcing more sustainable ingredients but also in recognising the business value of doing that. However, we also get signals of retail companies not willing to pay anything extra for certified sustainable ingredients, which is a concern for us.

TT: There’s been a significant change in the cocoa sector: sustainability has become a key focus during the past decade, and there has been significant progress during that time as a result of individual company commitments and activities, as well as through sector-wide initiatives. Today, there is a strong commitment and shared vision from many across the sector – manufacturers, processors, governments, NGOs and farming communities – to work together towards a sustainable supply chain that boosts productivity and improves the livelihoods of cocoa farmers. This is highlighted by the industry’s alignment with and collaboration around the World Cocoa Foundation’s (WCF) CocoaAction plan. It is helping to share knowledge, support cooperation with governments and identify areas where it makes sense for greater collaboration.

In the past, the sector has been criticised over issues such as low wages, dangerous working condition and child labour. Are these concerns still prevalent?

DdV: Yes, they are. The majority of farms are still not following sustainability standards. That’s why UTZ is looking for more companies to commit to sustainable sourcing.

TT: Developing a sustainable supply chain for cocoa that makes a real difference to the lives of cocoa farmers and that secures a long-term future for cocoa is a complex challenge. Cargill, alongside other leading cocoa and chocolate companies, has been working hard to address these issues, not least to better understand what is needed and how most effectively to take action. While we recognise there is still more work to be done, there has been progress.

“A sustainable cocoa sector cannot be achieved by one organisation alone. Everyone across the supply chain has a role to play.”

Cargill is concerned about the safety and well-being of children who may be involved in dangerous or forced work on cocoa farms, and our goal is a cocoa supply chain where no children are subject to unacceptable labour conditions. We are committed to working to protect the rights of children, to raise awareness of labour issues among farming communities and to take action to prevent children being put at risk.

We share the view that it is essential to help target poverty, the root cause of labour problems. That’s why we are focused on empowering smallholder cocoa farmers so that they can have a viable future with better incomes through increased cocoa yields and sustainable farming standards.

We recognise that we cannot tackle child labour and make a positive difference to cocoa farming communities on our own, so we are working alongside other members of the global cocoa and chocolate industry to partner with the governments of Ivory Coast and Ghana, NGOs and local farming communities to help make a positive difference to cocoa farmers, families and communities.

We are an active supporter of the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), which is an independent organisation that is enabling civil society and the chocolate industry to work together towards eliminating the worst forms of child labour from cocoa farming.

We are also a member of the WCF, which, through its CocoaAction strategy, is helping support farmers and improve living standards in farming communities across West Africa.

What initiatives have you introduced to improve the levels of sustainability in the regions in which you work?

DdV: We work with many partners who have a wide range of initiatives and projects in the field to improve sustainability in producing countries – but what is really the core of our organisation is the UTZ code of conduct, which is a set of guidelines for producers and other supply chain actors to follow the best agricultural and business practices.

We are continuously working towards proper application of these guidelines through training of stakeholders, monitoring of auditors, participation in local platforms and innovation of our approach.

TT: We have sourcing and processing operations in major cocoa-growing countries, including Ivory Coast, Ghana, Brazil, Cameroon and Indonesia, and our Cargill Cocoa Promise is supporting activities in each of these regions in three key areas (see ‘The three pillars of the Cargill Cocoa Promise’, right).

How much more do you think the industry can do to improve levels of sustainability?

DdV: If you see our industry as NGOs with market-based solutions for development, we can further work to improve the impact of our programmes and the transparency of that impact in order to generate industry interest and demand.

“A sustainable cocoa sector cannot be achieved by one organisation alone.”

At the same time, we must reduce unnecessary costs – for instance, in cases of multiple certification – so that money can be spent where it should.

TT: Since we launched the Cargill Cocoa Promise, the way that we and the industry think about sustainable cocoa has evolved tremendously – more players are talking the same language, and there is a very clear drive to make the most of the resources, effort and money that is being put in so that we can work effectively and more efficiently together.

In that respect, the WCF’s CocoaAction plan is a good example of the industry’s alignment and collaboration to bring together the best current knowledge and work hand in hand with origin governments around a holistic approach towards improving livelihoods and economic opportunities in cocoa communities.

A sustainable cocoa sector cannot be achieved by one organisation alone. To continue to scale up activities, reach more farmers and benefit more communities, as well as meet the growing demand for sustainable products, everyone across the supply chain – suppliers, customers, NGOs, international institutions and government bodies – has a role to play.

Read part two in our next issue.