On May 9th, parliamentarians within the European Union took steps to address low cocoa prices in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, asking the European Commission to start negotiations to alleviate the current environment, labor, and human rights abuses occurring within the industry. Estimates place the global cocoa market’s worth at over $100 billion, concentrated in a few multi-national corporations. Furthermore, as Africa News details, Ghana and the Ivory Coast together account for over 60% of world cocoa output – yet most growers cannot survive on the income they receive.
A majority of the cocoa farmers in these respective countries live in extreme destitution. Ghanaian farmers earn roughly under $1 a day while those in the Ivory Coast make around $0.78; according to the World Bank, about half of a million people in this sector live below the poverty line. With the E.U. being one of Ivory Coast’s largest export destinations, it is necessary that all parties agree on how to resolve the low price of cocoa, ensure that farmers are fairly compensated, and manage production supply in order to inhibit the possibility of market shocks.
If enacted, a newly-proposed E.U. law would additionally force cocoa traders to drop some suppliers because they use unethical practices. Therefore, in order for the E.U. to continue its business relations with both Ghana and the Ivory Coast, the Union must play a significant and positive role in the transformation of the cocoa industry, such that farmers are heard and every country involved is included in negotiations.
The Responsible Business Conduct Working Group of the European Parliament signed a letter on April 27th emphasizing the urgency for the commission to engage in conversation with the governments of Cote d’Ivoire, in which sustainability and social provisions must be both respected and implemented with the full cooperation of the E.U. and a myriad of other countries. Furthermore, Alex Assanvo, head of the Ivory Coast-Ghana Cocoa Initiative, noted that “given the environmental and social provisions implemented by the E.U. and many other countries in terms of regulations, an ‘Economic Pact’ is now necessary … to satisfy the first condition of sustainability,” where both governments are involved in all matters.
Nigeria, a close neighboring country, is currently the fourth largest producer of cocoa and is also experiencing similar issues regarding ethical working conditions. Many cocoa farmers in the Ofosu community there recently staged a protest, arguing that the state government planned to sell their farmland to a foreign company and take away their means of livelihood. A multitude of the protesters carried signs emblazoned with phrases like “Respect our right to livelihood,” “Don’t give our land to mindless capitalists,” and “Have mercy in us; don’t take our farms.” The cocoa industry – like the coffee industry, which struggles with similar issues – continuously pushes farmers to the side in the name of business opportunities. It is evident that the industry neither recognizes how it is exploiting the farmers it depends upon nor cares for their needs.
This exploitation has devastated lives across the continent. Conducting new dialogues on the international stage is essential to finding unexplored solutions.
Ghana and the Ivory Coast made new proposals earlier this year regarding the establishment of an Economic Pact for Sustainable Cocoa, with the ultimate goal of ensuring farmers earn a living wage. Additionally, as Ghana’s Foreign Affairs Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchway described, the two countries have formed a joint body to co-operate over research, price setting, and child labor. However, while a “living wage” premium on all cocoa purchases was enacted in 2019 in the hopes of helping raise wages and alleviate the state of poverty in the chocolate industry, authorities in the two countries found that confectionery multinationals and traders have continued to refuse to pay farmers. The coronavirus pandemic is partly to blame, having damaged global cocoa demand and production logistics, resulting in buyers being less willing to allow prices to rise.
The current cocoa-farming model can no longer continue. This model merely harms the most vulnerable people within the industry and further enables large corporations to dominate without consequence. Countries must work together to transform the cocoa industry into a field which guarantees fair trade, responsible sourcing, and direct trade. Furthermore, in order to alleviate environmental abuses under the current policy, water must be used efficiently and biodiversity and waterways must be protected. These steps are essential to create genuine change.
All investors, governments, stakeholders, and the E.U. commission agree to find compromise on an issue that has historically forgotten the marginalized communities most impacted by the outcome; thus, it is crucial that open communication takes place. The voices of the farmers who will carry these changes forward must be included in all discussions and their opinions must also be considered before decisions are officially finalized. Furthermore, parties will need to be willing to make significant compromises and to recognize that Ghana and the Ivory Coast are vital players within the international sphere. Therefore, they must be compensated accordingly for their strenuous efforts if trade and business transactions are to continue flowing freely.
The recent comments from the Commission and E.U. lawmakers are a sign that we are moving in the right direction. Thanks to the dismay and moral dilemmas that have reached the public as they reach for their favorite chocolate bar, as well as the transformation of relations between cocoa company and consumer, there is hope that the cocoa industry can make genuine improvements to how it treats both societies and the environment.