May 9e, European Union parliamentarians took action to tackle low cocoa prices in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, calling on the European Commission to enter into negotiations to mitigate ongoing violations of the environment, labor and human rights within the industry. Estimates place the value of the global cocoa market at over $100 billion, concentrated in a few multinational corporations. Moreover, as Africa News details, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire together account for more than 60% of global cocoa production – yet most farmers cannot survive on the income they receive.
The majority of cocoa farmers in these respective countries live in extreme poverty. Ghanaian farmers earn about less than $1 a day while those in Côte d’Ivoire earn about $0.78; according to the World Bank, about half a million people in this sector live below the poverty line. As the EU is one of the main export destinations for Côte d’Ivoire, there is a need for all parties to agree on how to resolve the low price of cocoa, to ensure that farmers are fairly compensated and to manage the supply of production in order to inhibit the possibility of market shocks.
If enacted, a new proposed EU law would further force cocoa traders to drop certain suppliers for using unethical practices. Therefore, for the EU to continue its trade relations with Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, the Union must play a meaningful and positive role in transforming the cocoa industry, so that farmers are heard and that each country involved is included in the negotiations.
The Responsible Business Conduct Task Force of the European Parliament signed a letter on 27 Aprile stressing the urgency for the committee to engage in a conversation with the governments of Côte d’Ivoire, in which sustainability and social provisions must be both respected and implemented with the full cooperation of the EU and a myriad of other countries. Furthermore, Alex Assanvo, head of the Côte d’Ivoire-Ghana Cocoa Initiative, noted that “given the environmental and social provisions implemented by the EU and many other countries in terms of regulations, a ‘Economic Pact’ is now needed… to satisfy the first sustainability condition, where both governments are involved in all areas.
Nigeria, a close neighbor, is currently the fourth largest cocoa producer and also faces similar issues regarding ethical working conditions. Many cocoa farmers in the Ofosu community recently staged a protest, claiming that the state government is planning to sell their farmland to a foreign company and take away their livelihoods. A multitude of protesters carried signs emblazoned with phrases like “Respect our right to subsistence”, “Don’t give our land to stupid capitalists” and “Have mercy on us; do not take our farms. The cocoa industry – like the coffee industry, which struggles with similar issues – continually pushes farmers aside in the name of business opportunity. It is obvious that the industry does not recognize how it exploits the farmers it depends on and does not care about their needs.
This exploitation has devastated lives across the continent. Leading new dialogues on the international stage is essential to find unexplored solutions.
Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire made new proposals earlier this year to establish a Sustainable Cocoa Economic Pact, with the ultimate aim of guaranteeing farmers a living wage. Furthermore, as described by Ghana’s Foreign Minister, Shirley Ayorkor Botchway, the two countries have formed a joint body to cooperate on research, pricing and child labor. However, while a “living wage” bonus on all cocoa purchases was enacted in 2019 in hopes of helping to raise wages and alleviate the state of poverty in the chocolate industry, authorities both countries have found that multinationals and confectionery traders continue to refuse to pay farmers. The coronavirus pandemic is partly to blame, having damaged global cocoa demand and production logistics, making buyers less willing to let prices rise.
The current model of cocoa farming can no longer continue. This model only harms the most vulnerable people in the industry and further allows big companies to dominate without consequence. Countries must work together to transform the cocoa industry into one that ensures fair trade, responsible sourcing and direct trade. Furthermore, in order to mitigate environmental damage under current policy, water must be used efficiently and biodiversity and waterways must be protected. These steps are essential to creating real change.
All investors, governments, stakeholders and the European Commission agree to find a compromise on an issue that has historically overlooked the marginalized communities most affected by the outcome; it is therefore crucial that open communication takes place. The voices of the farmers who will carry these changes must be included in all discussions and their opinions must also be taken into account before decisions are officially finalized. Furthermore, the parties will have to be willing to make important compromises and to recognize that Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire are essential actors in the international sphere. Therefore, they must be compensated accordingly for their hard work if business and commerce transactions are to continue to flow freely.
Recent comments from the Commission and European legislators are a sign that we are moving in the right direction. Thanks to the consternation and moral dilemmas that plagued the public as they searched for their favorite chocolate bar, as well as the transformation of the relationship between the cocoa company and the consumer, it is hoped that the cocoa industry will be able to make real improvements in the way it treats both societies and the environment.