Strengthening Transparency in West Africa’s Cocoa Supply Chain

The cocoa sector in West Africa, particularly in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, is contending with severe environmental and social challenges, from deforestation to child labor. These challenges are the very reasons the Rainforest Alliance works to advance sustainable agriculture in this region, which produces the vast majority of the world’s cocoa.

In response to reports about deforestation among certified farms, UTZ (the international sustainable agriculture organization that merged with the Rainforest Alliance last year) conducted a deforestation risk analysis from 2017 – 2018. The analysis identified 61 groups in Cote d'Ivoire as “high risk,” either for their proximity to protected areas or for a high degree of forest cover loss. In 2018 we required these 61 groups to supply GPS points for 100 percent of their farms.

In April 2019, the Rainforest Alliance launched the cocoa assurance plan to strengthen transparency along the cocoa supply chain. As part of that plan, we halted all new cocoa certifications in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. As of September, the certifications for 30 of the 61 “high-risk” groups have expired. Another 26 remain active, 4 are under review, and 1 is suspended.

In June, Cote d’Ivoire’s ministry of forestry established a new forest code and issued new maps of protected areas. Using these for reference, we are now mapping 432,202 UTZ certified smallholder cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire. In the interest of transparency, we will continue to share our progress here.

We are working to map 100 percent of certified cocoa farms in the region by 2021. To date, we have mapped GPS data for 15 percent of UTZ certified farms in Cote d’Ivoire that were certified in 2018-2019 against the newly adjusted protected areas (June 2019 MINEF). In this ongoing mapping work, the UTZ program has so far identified that 4,932 smallholder farms in Cote d’Ivoire located in newly adjusted protected areas. These farm certifications expired on September 30, 2019, and have not been re-certified.

Child labor is also an entrenched problem in the cocoa sector. A simple prohibition on certified farms does not effectively reduce and eliminate child labor, since it is exceedingly difficult to detect child labor during a farm audit in a remote region. Therefore we are shifting to an “assess and address” approach, formalized in the cocoa sector as the Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation System (CLMRS). Child labor is of course still prohibited on certified farms, but farmers and farm groups will receive training and be required to establish systems to assess, mitigate, and monitor the risk of child labor, identify such incidents on farms, and take immediate action if necessary. In addition to looking for evidence of child labor, auditors will pay close attention to the prevention measures taken by farms and farm groups.

Certification can be a powerful tool for large-scale, incremental transformation, but it cannot provide a guarantee against a complex, entrenched problem like child labor. Indeed, certification can only contribute to progress on the issue in concert with strong policy, vigorous enforcement, education on the issue, and improved livelihood opportunities for farmers—who are in the most disadvantaged position in the global supply chain.

The Rainforest Alliance is doing our part by consistently and transparently working to improve our standards, assurance mechanisms, and associated interventions. The Rainforest Alliance’s 2020 Certification Program, currently in development, is an important element of a new certification approach—including new tools, rules, and procedures. We’re working to strengthen our assurance systems through intensified auditor and certification training and new technology (such as geospatial analysis) to dramatically increase the accuracy and efficiency of our assurance system.

Collaboration is key to affecting the kind of change that will improve the lives of cocoa farmers and their families, while protecting the critically important rainforest ecosystem around cocoa-producing regions. We are a partner in the multi-stakeholder Cocoa & Forests Initiative, which includes the governments of Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana and aims to end deforestation and restore forests. In addition, the Rainforest Alliance is also a partner in the International Cocoa Initiative, a foundation that unites various forces across the cocoa and chocolate industry—including civil society groups, farming communities, and national governments of cocoa-producing countries—to ensure a better future for children and to work together to eliminate child labor.

The Rainforest Alliance remains deeply committed to improving environmental and social issues on certified cocoa farms in West Africa. We believe we have a shared responsibility, along with other actors in the global supply chain, to support cocoa producers and businesses on their sustainability journey.

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