GES Engagement Trip to Côte d’Ivoire

by Stina Nilsson, Senior Engagement Manager at GES

GES recently travelled to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire together with a group of investor clients to participate in a conference and attend meetings on sustainability in the cocoa sector. The group also made a brief visit to a cocoa-growing community in the country.

According to a report from the IMF, Côte d’Ivoire is the fastest growing economy in Africa with a growth rate of 8.5 per cent. The Ivorian government has set the goal of making the country an emerging economy by 2020. There is no doubt there is a fair level of enthusiasm in relation to the country’s improving economic prosperity.

Côte d’Ivoire is also the world’s largest cocoa producing nation and from the conference we heard clear voices, among others, from the national authority regulating and managing coffee and cocoa production, that it is time to develop domestic processing capacity, rather than letting the added value of processing be earned abroad. Consumption in the country is needed to support such a development.

On the social side, a new law is being implemented in Côte d’Ivoire where the minimum working age has changed from 14 to 16 years. There is now also compulsory basic education (although under implementation). Such reforms are of course key to combatting child labour in cocoa-growing communities, but also crucial to transforming economic growth into improved quality of life for the Ivorian population, and building a strong country for the future.

During our week in Abidjan, it was frequently said that building and running schools is the responsibility of the government, but many companies participate in school construction in cooperation with the government. One cocoa company for example argued that its incentive to build schools and run initiatives in cocoa growing communities is that it wants to have a good reputation in the communities and to be able to continue working with them to supply its products 20 years from now. Another company, Nestlé, has built more than 40 schools within the Nestlé Cocoa Plan.

A root cause of child labour is poverty. According to NGO network the Voice, cocoa is too cheap to be sustainable. Companies should pay a fair price to farmers and the NGO argues this is not the case currently. Initiatives to improve farmer livelihoods were often mentioned at the conference, in particular through productivity and income generating activities. Initiatives directed to women have proven more effective in terms of ensuring that additional income is harnessed for the wellbeing of cocoa-growing families.

Many participants at the conference spoke up on the professionalization of cocoa farming. The industry initiative CocoaAction has developed a farm economic model to understand input and output for cocoa farmers and to find ways to make cocoa farming a profitable business. Further innovations on mechanisation, fertilisation and breeding are underway and will be important to spur this development.

Child labour monitoring and remediation systems (CLMRS) are also gaining ground quickly. After International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) and Nestlé initiated CLMRS a few years ago, CLMRS are now being rolled out by several companies and they are a mandatory part of the CocoaAction framework. A child labour community committee with members responsible for community liaison constitutes the centre of CLMRS. Remediation measures in the CLMRS are tied to the causes of child labour, which can vary from poverty to lack of understanding of what constitutes child labour to the lack of a birth certificate, which is a formal requirement for a child to complete school. Accordingly, remediation measures range from assisting in setting up income generating activities, to awareness raising on what constitutes child labour to making sure a child is able to go to school.

All efforts described above show a high level of engagement by the cocoa industry, governments and stakeholders to develop more sustainable cocoa production. However, estimates have it that such initiatives reach roughly 20-30 per cent of cocoa-growing communities in Côte d’Ivoire. Step by step more and more of the cocoa supply chain is being reached, but for many cocoa farmers close to nothing has changed. At the conference, the president of the World Cocoa Foundation continuously called for a scale-up and urged more companies, including small and medium sized cocoa companies, to get involved in industry sustainability efforts. He also called for stronger partnerships with international financial institutions and donors and emphasised an increased need for collaboration with host governments, as well as more participation by civil society.

There is definitely a role for investors to play as well. Several established and emerging good practices are evident. We can help to spread those practices and encourage the whole industry to follow current leaders towards further scale-ups. There is also an opportunity to spread good practices in the cocoa sector to other cash crop industries.

GES on coca farm
Stina Nilsson on demonstration cocoa farm


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