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Labour watchdog calls for Fairtrade commitment from Mars

By Lindsey Partos , 14-Apr-2009

Labour watchdog International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) recognises Mars' recent road map for sustainability as “an important step forward” but claims the chocolate behemoth needs to push further into Fairtrade certification.

Their views come days after global chocolate player Mars pledged to sustainably source 100,000 metric tonnes of cocoa annually by 2020, forging a multi-year, multi-country deal with sustainability certifier Rainforest Alliance to source “a significant portion” of the firm's total cocoa requirements.

"This recent announcement does not do enough to ensure that workers are not exploited in the company's global supply chain," said Bama Athreya, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum.

"We have been calling on chocolate companies to support Fairtrade since 2001 and we encourage Mars, as well as other major US chocolate companies like Hershey, to go further in ensuring that they contribute to higher working and living standards for cocoa farmers," she added.


While the US-based ILRF claims the Rainforest Alliance standards for cocoa production "are not the strongest in terms of sustainability certification" they believe the alliance is a “significant improvement” – particularly because they apply to the co-operative level – over current certification processes used by chocolate firms across the world.

"For years, major chocolate companies have argued that it is impossible to establish a certification program on the farm or cooperative level, but the Mars' announcement shows that it is indeed possible," states the watchdog.

Mars' road map comes soon after UK confectionery firm Cadbury announced last month it would seek Fairtrade certification for its top selling chocolate bar, Dairy Milk, in the UK market by the end of this summer.

Major chocolate player Cadbury follows smaller firms such as Divine Chocolate, Equal Exchange and Sweet Earth Organic chocolates that have pinned their sourcing needs into an ethical-driven cocoa supply chain.

Child labour and the cocoa industry

The issue of child labour came to the fore in 2001 after a series of media exposes depicted forced child labour and trafficking on West African cocoa farms.

The reports served as a catalyst for calls to purge this issue from the cocoa supply chain, leading to the signing of the Harkin-Engel Protocol in 2001 by leading stakeholders, including cocoa processors and chocolate makers.

Welcomed at the time by human rights groups and labour watchdogs, the protocol set out to eliminate the worst forms of child labour from cocoa supply chains. Together producing over 70 per cent of the world's cocoa supply, Ghana and Ivory Coast were to feel the major thrust of the protocol.

But a report issued last year by the ILRF claims the "original intent of the protocol has not been achieved" with industry dragging its feet.

"Consumers today have no more assurance than they did eight years ago that trafficked or exploited child labour was not used in the production of their chocolate," states the report.

In contrast, US democratic Senator Tom Harkin, the motor behind the protocol in 2001, said last year after a trip to West Africa that a number of important achievements had occurred since 2001.

"I had a chance to see, first hand, the progress that is being made in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire," he commented.

Adding, "I am hopeful that the industry will redouble its efforts to increase its contributions to the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) to effectively deal with remediation needs."

A multi-stakeholder group, the ICI was established in 2002 under the protocol and represents a partnership among NGOs, trade unions, cocoa processors, such as US firm Cargill, and major chocolate brands that include Nestle and Cadbury.