Politics of Poverty

Are women from Mars, Mondelez or Nestle?

Posted by

Food companies’ projects to support farmers in developing countries are a start, but not enough.

The launch of our Behind The Brands campaign and Oxfam’s first campaign action call to Mars, Mondelez International, and Nestle to tackle gender inequality in their cocoa supply chains garnered an immediate response from Mars through a blog post where they describe work they are doing with women in their Sustainable Cocoa Initiative:

“…the Sustainable Cocoa Initiative is designed to work with these communities to help ease social hurdles like poverty, lack of education, and lack of opportunity by addressing the core challenges that farmers face. We recognize the important role women will play in addressing these problems and in moving their communities forward.”

Nestle for its part welcomed their position at the top of the index even as they all but ignored our substantive critique of their policies on women.  Mondelez responded in media reports expressing disappointment that we did not focus solely on areas where everyone already agrees.  None of the companies committed to change any policies to address their current failures.

Olga Rosine Adou is the president of COOPASA, a cocoa cooperative in Agboville, Ivory Coast. She says international companies that buy cocoa from the women she represents could do more to improve their livelihoods. Photo: Peter DiCampo / Oxfam America

The truth is we recognize that all three of these companies have projects that seek to help farmers.  Most of these efforts are done to increase the yields of cocoa farmers, which can lead to better livelihoods.  We also recognize that these projects in some instances have reached out to women to work with them in bettering their communities.  Nevertheless, the projects the companies tout in their public relations are piecemeal at best.

While projects such as these can be a good tool for testing practices and understanding their impacts, they do not represent a holistic approach to supply chain management.  Clear policies that come from the top of a company, and that are communicated to all employees, buyers, and their suppliers throughout the supply chain, can result in more positive impacts for all agricultural producers and workers.  Oxfam is looking for the three companies to improve their policies across their cocoa supply chains so that all women working within them can benefit from increased training programs, cooperative membership, access to agricultural inputs, and living wages.

Together Mars, Mondelez, and Nestle control more than 40% of the global chocolate market, purchase nearly one third of the world’s harvested cocoa and net more than $45 billion a year in confectionary sales.  They have the power to influence suppliers, governments, and certification bodies and they can influence policy shifts and practices in the sector.

While women increasingly occupy positions of power in food and beverage company headquarters and are frequently the targets of marketing campaigns, women working in food companies’ supply chains in developing countries continue to be denied similar advances in wealth, status, or opportunity. For example:

  • The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that women small-scale farmers in Africa own just 1 percent of agricultural land, receive only 7 percent of extension services, and benefit from less than 10 percent of agricultural credit is offered to women.
  • As much of 60 percent of the global agricultural workforce is made up of women who produce everything from corn to tomatoes, vanilla to tea.

Overcoming gender discrimination could be the most important thing that can be done to cultivate equitable and sustainable growth.  As The Economist reported back in 2006, the increase in employment of women in developed countries during the past decade has added more to global growth than has the economic emergence of China.

While speaking to women cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast last month, I heard time and again that being a cocoa farmer for women was simply harder than it was for men because they lacked some of the support that men were getting.  Olga Rosine Adou is a rare entity in the Ivory Coast as a woman who is President of a cocoa cooperative in Agboville.  Olga told us that were many things she could use from the international chocolate companies that buy cocoa in the Ivory Coast to make the jobs of the women farmers she represents more efficient and remunerative.

“[T]here are many things we want. For example, we want to be trained, and taught about what steps to take to do it well. We also need tools and equipment, (machetes, motos, buckets, etc.) to get the work done. If we had those things, it’d be easier. We also need pesticides and fertilizers to treat our farms.”

Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign sets out three clear steps for companies like Mars, Mondelez and Nestle to address women’s unfair treatment comprehensively. The three companies have made significant commitments to source certified cocoa and have worked on projects through a number of stakeholder initiatives demonstrating the companies’ willingness to engage and the possibility of dealing collectively with complex issues. But, it’s now time to address women’s rights in the same fashion.

It is plain for all to see that women who grow food companies’ raw ingredients are facing hunger and unfair pay. But so far none of the companies has stepped up to lead the way.  Food companies know about these inequities. Behind the Brands is telling them it’s time to deal with them systematically.

Oxfam.org Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+