NEW YORK — The Rainforest Alliance announced plans to strengthen its cocoa certification program. The new measures, which will be published in June and rolled out during the subsequent 12 months, were designed to promote greater transparency and shared responsibility throughout the cocoa supply chain, the organization said.
Changes include stricter audit rules and enhanced traceability and performance monitoring systems. All certificate holders, for example, will be required to submit a GPS point for 100% of their farms’ locations.
“We are proud to announce a significantly stronger program that paves the way for Rainforest Alliance to reimagine certification on a broad scale,” said Alex Morgan, chief markets officer at the Rainforest Alliance. “We are confident that these improvements will go a long way in building more comprehensive interventions.”
Despite recent progress, the cocoa industry continues to face substantial environmental, social and economic challenges.
“The main challenges we face today are low prices and very low farmer income, which contributes to other challenges, like deforestation and child labor,” said Siriki Diakite, West Africa director at the Rain Forest Alliance. “It is estimated that cocoa farmers receive between just 3% to 6% of the retail price of a chocolate bar… Many farmers facing extreme poverty have been moving into protected forest in search of more fertile land, hoping to increase their revenues.”
A 2018 study by researchers at Tulane University estimated 16,000 children or more work on West African cocoa farms. Others, including the U.S. Department of Labor, have placed that number as high as 2 million.
Hershey, Mondelez, Nestle, Mars are among the companies that have worked with the Rainforest Alliance to address these problems, though results have so far been mixed.
The Cocoa Barometer 2018 report, written by a group of more than 15 companies and organizations, found that efforts to curb deforestation, improve farmers’ economic condition and reduce child labor yielded little progress over the last decade. At the time of the report, no company or government was on track to meet commitments to reduce child labor by 70% by 2020.
“It is critical that all participants in the cocoa industry — producers, companies, governments, N.G.O.s, and others — take a more active and permanent role in tackling these issues,” Mr. Morgan said. “Rainforest Alliance will remain vigilant and continue to develop approaches that drive impact through a stronger and more sustainable approach.”
In addition to strengthening its cocoa certification program, the Rainforest Alliance will invest $2 million in improving its approach to assurance and transparency and an additional $5 million to launch a new Cocoa Sector Transformation Fund.