Certification labels reassure consumers that a product has been responsibly produced, but there is a growing view among industry experts that the system behind the label is what really counts. Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate's sustainable cocoa director, Taco Terheijden, offers his view on how the schemes add value and what they may look like in the future.
The most internationally recognised set of standards and systems for sustainable sourcing are certification schemes offered by Fairtrade, The Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Certified. These have all been developed to assure consumers, processors, retailers and other supply chain players that products have been grown, traded and processed in a sustainable and responsible way.
There is strong evidence that certification schemes benefit farmers and farmer organisations. For instance, leading socio-economic research institute LEI recently confirmed that having participated in Cargill's Farmer Field Schools in Ivory Coast, a large group of farmers producing third-party-certified cocoa has benefitted from a 50% increase in income on average. It also highlights that cocoa farmers connected to Cargill's certified cocoa programme have a gross household income averaging $3,500 compared with the $2,000 average in Ivory Coast.
It is clear that certification standards represent an essential step towards making a difference to the one million small-holder farmers that produce most of the world's cocoa. Involving third parties - including the certification schemes themselves - means that customers can credibly report on the origins of their products and the impact they are having on farmers' lives.
Cocoa and chocolate manufacturers are all at different stages. Those with well-developed sustainability strategies are looking for partners and tools that can support them in achieving their own company-wide sustainability goals. They want to understand exactly how money invested in sustainable cocoa is making a difference and increasingly want to source ingredients sustainably across their product lines, going beyond having a label on a few of their products and taking a more strategic approach.
Meanwhile, others are just starting out, and simply want to get the basics in place - working with a transparent, credible partner to make sure they are covering the essentials of responsible cocoa sourcing.
Certification systems certainly offer the best solution we have today, particularly for those wanting to get the basics right. However, more needs to be done to support those at the more advanced end of the scale. The areas that need focus include:
As part of CocoaAction, a collective of industry leaders and experts headed up by the World Cocoa Foundation, Cargill is discussing these areas to develop a more progressive sustainable sourcing system.
We are already seeing many of these elements working well. Take reward mechanisms for example: current certification systems reward farmers with premium payments. This incentivises farmers to improve their agricultural practices, and means they have extra money to invest in their farms and make them more productive.
Cargill has already built on the progress made to incentivise farmers by tracking exactly how much money paid by customers goes directly to farmers and cooperatives, and how cooperatives use premiums to improve their services and the support they provide to their farmers. This allows more financial transparency in the supply chain and enables Cargill to demonstrate a clear return on investment for its customers.
Looking ahead, continued collaboration among industry leaders is essential. The industry faces a challenge big enough that everyone needs to play their part, and by listening to each other's needs, we can make sure that there is a bright and rewarding future for the entire cocoa sector.
Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate has launched a series of 'Perspectives' leaflets, which aim to be a voice of reason and foresight within the industry. The series is all about making it easy for customers to see how, together, we can create a more sustainable future.
The first leaflet shows how certification schemes - together with the Cargill Cocoa Promise, the company's broader commitment to sustainable cocoa - can improve transparency in your supply chain, enhance your brand and improve the credibility of your sustainability claims.
It offers a balanced view of the issues you may be concerned about, such as how premium payments are being invested by cooperatives. This can help you formulate your own perspective on how these schemes can create value for your business and for the real heroes of sustainable cocoa - the farmers.