• Julia Christian

    Julia Christian

    Forest Policy Adviser

“Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana together produce more than half of the world's cocoa, and the impact on forests in those countries is intense. 

The EU has a very clear responsibility to act: it consumes about 60 per cent of global cocoa imports, an unusually high figure, which is partly down to Europeans’ historic, cultural love for chocolate. 

As well as driving deforestation, cocoa has a big child labour problem. The cocoa industry has attempted to address child labour for almost 20 years via voluntary commitments, and they’ve completely failed. 

Infographic showing statistics on cocoa consumption

Now companies, and the main certification standards in the chocolate sector, acknowledge the need for regulation and legal enforcement—both in producer countries, and in major consumer regions like the EU. For us, cocoa is a place to start the conversation on the need to regulate agricultural commodities in general, and to explore what that regulation could look like. That is why, as part of the consumption campaign, we worked actively on cocoa in 2018.

The chocolate sector also tends to buy other forest risk commodities: such as large amounts of palm oil. So when you start a conversation with them around cocoa - which is where they've received the most negative pressure because of child labour - it leads quite naturally into a wider conversation around the need for environmental and human rights legislation for other commodities.

Cocoa plants in Ghana

We only really started working on cocoa at the beginning of the year, and we've positioned ourselves as a key actor in the debate: we’ve already been invited to speak at events by the European Parliament, the German and French governments, the chocolate industry, and NGO coalitions in Brussels and the UK.

We’re working in close collaboration with other NGOs and allies who have contacts in different constituencies to us. We joined the VOICE Network, which is the association of European organisations working on cocoa.

Child looking up at cocoa pod

One positive thing to emerge from that collaboration is that the final declaration of the World Cocoa Conference (the leading event for the global cocoa sector) referred to the failure of voluntary approaches and stated that governments should consider regulatory measures. This was a big step forward, which we were able to use throughout the year to raise policy-makers’ awareness that the cocoa sector wants regulation.

Old African man in the forest

In July we facilitated the attendance of our Ghanaian partner to join a panel in a hearing in the European Parliament on tackling deforestation and human rights abuses in cocoa supply chains, which got great media coverage including in Reuters and the New York Times.

The was an incredible consensus at that hearing, thanks to a groundwork by us and our allies before the event. You had all the MEPs asking, ‘Why aren't we regulating the sector?’ and Mondelez, which is the world's second biggest chocolate company, made a clear call for an EU Diligence approach.

Heidi Hautala, one of the European Parliament’s Vice Presidents, approached us and said she wanted to organise a follow-up, smaller discussion to go into more detail.

We held the follow-up hearing in November, and it brought together a range of stakeholders, including four major chocolate companies, all the main European NGOs, and certification initiatives, etc. The stakeholders’ desire for regulation was made clear, and the Commission seemed taken aback.

In terms of policy progress, France came up with its National Strategy on Deforestation, and called for an EU Human Rights Due Diligence Regulation on forest risk commodities - specifically calling attention to cocoa - saying that we should develop something on cocoa relatively quickly because it's clearly ripe for regulation.

Infographic showing statistics on cocoa consumption

A month later, Belgium made the same call, and more recently Germany has come out with a 10-point action plan on cocoa where they've called attention to the need for EU regulation.

Now we are trying to focus on getting the debate further within the higher levels of the European Commission.

Ultimately they will be responsible for initiating any regulation and I think that they're the most reluctant to do so, because the onus is on them.

On the other hand, there is some movement coming from people working on corporate governance within the Commission, towards an EU Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence Regulation covering all commodities. 

Worker by the cocoa plants in the forest

There are also increasingly powerful campaigns in a number of European countries—Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, Switzerland— to call for such legislation, often bringing together a wide range of voices, from national political parties to NGOs, to companies, to trade unions. I have a growing feeling that a regulation like this, at the EU level, is all but inevitable within the next few years.

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