Global confectioners Mars and Nestle have joined a sustainable cocoa programme, which aims to establish a traceability system for all farmers in the Ivory Coast.
The Good Inside Cocoa Programme, established by the Dutch non-profit organisation Utz Certified, aims to eliminate environmental and humanitarian problems such as child labour, deforestation and low salaries.
As consumer and regulatory concern over working conditions in Africa increases, manufacturers can no longer ignore the responsibility they have towards some of the poorest workers in the world.
However, Utz Certified project manager Daan de Vries told ConfectioneryNews.com that the programme will have practical implications as well.
"We will consider issues such as market supply, health and safety - all the factors necessary for cocoa trading," he said.
On a purely business level, Western firms are indeed conscious that protecting supply from the Ivory Cost and Ghana - which together account for 65 per cent of the world's net cocoa - is vital in order to keep margins high.
The organisation is currently working on developing a code of practice, focusing on five main areas:
- The organisational setup
- Building relevant networks
- Working out traceability
- Organising the chain of custody.
- Setting up stakeholder consultation periods
The initial draft of the code will be published in the next two weeks, and then producers, stakeholders and manufacturers will have until April to suggest any changes they deem necessary, de Vries said.
Utz Certified hopes that the first certified cocoa growers will begin production by the end of the year, with "Good Inside" cocoa available on the market by the end of 2009.
The organisation also said it decided to initiate the scheme after the success of its programme for ethical coffee trading, first established five years ago.
"We believe that Utz Certified's experience in mainstream coffee certification and traceability, and the experience and commitment of all the organisations involved, will enable us to work towards a more sustainable cocoa sector," de Vries said.
Mars and Nestle's commitment to sustainable cocoa comes only one week after Cadbury pledged to protect Ghanaian chocolate production through a scheme that, similarly, was promoted as helping improve the livelihoods of African farmers.
Another company keen to show ethical credentials is Blommer, which currently has cocoa trading programmes with farmers in both the Ivory Coast and South East Asia.