Politics of Poverty

The truth about women and chocolate – soft promises or solid change?

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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.

Two years ago, three of the world’s biggest cocoa companies made commitments to improve the situation for women in their supply chains. Are they keeping their promise?

Sarah Zoen is a Senior Policy Advisor in the Private Sector Department of Oxfam America.

Women cocoa farmers in Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, and other sourcing countries face a daily struggle with inequality.  They systematically earn less than men, have access to fewer productive resources and are excluded from decision making processes. They typically don’t have land, cannot access credit to grow their business and are excluded from training.  Two years ago, some of our favorite brands promised to do something about the women marginalized in their supply chains.  Are those companies keeping the promise?

When we met Agnes Gabriel in Ayetoro-Ijesa, Nigeria she was a thirty-something migrant farm worker on a cocoa farm there. One of her jobs was to remove cocoa beans from their pods during harvest time, carrying them to the site where they will ferment, and then helping with the drying process. For her efforts, Agnes earned 500 Naira a day, or just over $3. Men, in contrast earn about $7 per day, getting hired for higher paying work like weeding, spraying, and harvesting. Of the 19 stages in cocoa production the 12 lower paying stages are usually reserved for women.

When agricultural training is offered to farmers, most women miss out. When women farmers seek access to credit, many are denied because they don’t own land. Olga Rosine Adou, a cocoa farmer and coop leader living in Agboville, Ivory Coast, describes this harsh reality:

 “It’s very difficult to do this work as a woman. Women have so much to do at home—cleaning the house and keeping up the courtyard, preparing meals, etc. Women are the first to get up in the morning and the last to get to bed at night. They are educating their children…They need help to survive.”

When Oxfam launched the Behind the Brands campaign two years ago we chose to put women cocoa farmers at the front of our campaign.  We challenged some of the world’s biggest cocoa buyers to change the rules of the game for women cocoa farmers. Within weeks, Mars, Mondelēz, and Nestlé stepped up.  These companies collectively control more than 40% of the global chocolate market and purchase nearly one third of the world’s harvested cocoa. Changes in their policies will change the lives of millions of women cocoa farmers like Agnes Gabriel and Ola Rosine Adou.

According to the recently published Cocoa Barometer, an average cocoa farmer in the Ivory Coast is making .50 cents a day compared to a cocoa manufacturer making $390 million in annual profits. And with more than $45 billion a year in confectionary sales that these companies enjoy, they have the means to make that change happen.

So two years later, are things are on track? Are the companies keeping the promise? Last October, we asked companies to report on progress. Here is where things stand:

Mondelēz is moving in the right direction

Of the three companies, Mondelēz so far has the deepest analysis of the issues facing women cocoa farmers in their supply chain. The challenge for Mondelēz is now to implement their plans in practice and to actively address the lack women farmers as direct suppliers in the supply chain. The company also needs to support women to lack access to productive resources like land rights and cocoa trees. Mondelēz’s recent progress report shows that the company is on an encouraging path forward.

Nestlé knows what’s needed

Nestlé initially provided the most robust assessment of all three companies proving an in-depth understanding of the issues faced by women farmers in their cocoa supply chains. However the company initially failed last year to translate this into a strong action plan. They then revised the action plan publishing more detail and a adopting more impactful elements.  The company now has a more solid plan, which Oxfam will be monitoring to see where they take it.

Mars has a commitment to do more in 2015

Mars was the first company to publish an impact assessment but despite having good instinct for what women farmers in their supply chain need, both their initial assessment and action plan fell short.  The company then published a  renewed commitment to tackle these issues just last month in which Mars agrees to broaden the scope of its assessment in 2015, including  a wider range of stakeholders, and also to provide a robust plan to address the major obstacles facing women farmers. The company will publish more detail in June.

Beyond independent action, all three companies are committed to CocoaAction, a multi-stakeholder effort to promote sustainable cocoa sourcing and development. Gender equality is a core issue the industry group is taking on. Will this promise lead to change? We will have to wait and see what happens.

“There are many things we want,” Adou said, when asked what international companies could do to help women cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast. “[…] we want that these conditions to get better.”

On this International Women’s Day, we are reminded that Agnes Gabriel and Olga Rosine Adou, and thousands of women like them, are hopeful that a company’s gender policies and practices will actually be felt at the farm and community level.

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