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21 May 2024

Investors call on chocolate giants to boost cocoa farmers’ wages

A group of shareholders have called on some of the world’s largest chocolate makers to improve the pay of cocoa farmers within their supply chains. 

The investor letter, issued by non-profit Investor Advocates for Social Justice (IASJ), called companies including Hershey and Lindt & Sprüngli “to end exploitative purchasing practices”, particularly in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. 

The letter, which was also directed to Ferrero, Mars Mondelez International and Nestlé, has called on the companies to provide all cocoa farmers with a “living income” by the end of 2025. 

The investor group also demanded support for “cocoa farmer resilience and security” by establishing long-term working contracts. 

Boosting farmer incomes will help address the “root cause” of child labour, the IASJ said. 

It will also help to ensure continued stability of the cocoa sector, by preventing farmers from leaving the sector altogether for better pay. 

In April, a report on Nestlé’s income accelerator for cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire found pay had gone up but had fallen short of a benchmark for living incomes. 

According to the IASJ, chocolate producers have “repeatedly deflected investors’ requests for them to ensure cocoa farmers receive a higher farmgate price, by stating the governments of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire are responsible for setting the price for cocoa”. 

Those countries do set prices. However, the investors said chocolate companies can still “pay sustainability premiums on top of the government-set price which are received directly by cocoa farmers”. 

In a statement, IASJ program director Aaron Acosta said: “We’re calling on chocolate companies to use their purchasing power, through price interventions, to ensure cocoa farmers receive a living income. Because of their size and influence, chocolate companies are uniquely positioned to address systemic poverty by ensuring cocoa farmers receive a living income.” 

In recent weeks, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the two largest producers of cocoa worldwide, have raised their farmgate prices for the commodity

This year, cocoa futures have hit record highs due to pressure on global supplies from crop disease and poor weather. Some confectioners have also pointed to regulation, including the planned new EU laws covering deforestation, as well as market speculation, for playing a role in fuelling prices

Just Food  contacted Ferrero, Hershey, Lindt, Mars, Mondelez and Nestlé for comment. 

A Nestlé spokesperson said: “We believe cocoa farmers should earn an income enabling them to maintain a decent and adequate standard of living for themselves and their families.” 

The spokesperson pointed to Nestlé’s income accelerator, adding the programme “is helping cocoa farmers to substantially improve cocoa productivity as well as increase their net income”. 

The spokesperson added: “We are continuing to gather feedback from the farming families, to learn and adapt the programme accordingly. 

“These financial incentives are on top of the support provided by the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana that Nestlé pays and premiums Nestlé offers for certified cocoa.” 

The other companies had not responded to Just Food‘s requests for comment at the time of writing.

24 April 2024

UK seeks common eco-label standards to avoid greenwashing

The UK is seeking to come up with a “level of standardisation” for existing eco-labels on food and drink products to avoid the potential for greenwashing. 

A report compiled by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), said there are “no plans at present to introduce a mandatory eco-label, nor to endorse an existing or new eco-labelling scheme”. 

Instead, Defra wants to bring commonality to the different methodologies used to back the voluntary eco-labels in use or for “emerging schemes”. 

The paper outlined a current “lack of consistency”, which “creates potential for false or misleading environmental claims (greenwashing) and confusion”. 

It added: “Low consumer trust, understanding and engagement with eco-labels, along with business concerns about the reputational risk of being accused of greenwashing, are contributing to low levels of market penetration.” 

Coming under the UK government’s 2022 food strategy, the Food Data Transparency Partnership’s (FDTP) preferred method for eco-labels is for a “lifecycle assessment (LCA) approach to quantify the environmental impact throughout a product’s life cycle”. 

Not all of the existing eco-labels employ that approach, with some centring on greenhouse gas emissions or a “multi-metric” system such as biodiversity or land use, water pollution and water usage, the report said. 

“The scientific community lacks consensus around which are the best metrics to measure the environmental impact of food,” it added. 

“Our aim is not to displace these schemes, as we believe they play an important role in promoting higher standards at farm level. However, as they do not cover the entire lifecycle of a product, we can see the potential value-add LCA-based eco-labels can bring.” 

Some 21 voluntary food and drink eco-labelling schemes operating in the UK have been identified since 2021, which the report said use different environmental metrics. 

The FDTP seeks a “consistent product level accounting standard that provides clear rules to enable comparable product footprints”. 

It is a partnership between Defra, the Department for Health and Social Security and the Food Standards Agency, along with industry representatives and academia. 

For the eco-labels in use, “it is important that they provide a fair and accurate representation of a product’s environmental impact, so that genuinely more sustainable products can successfully differentiate themselves and consumers are not misled”, according to the report. 

“Once we have addressed the fundamental issues of how to quantify product level environmental impacts and ensuring sufficient data quality and availability, we will consider the need to develop the eco-labelling methodology further to cover other aspects of eco-labels, such as label design and application.”

19 April 2024

Unilever dials down sustainability targets for more “focused” green strategy

Unilever has dialled down some of its sustainability targets in order to become more focused on “allocating resources”. 

Setting out the agenda, CEO Hein Schumacher described three “key shifts” Unilever is taking under the “Growth Action Plan” the former FrieslandCampina chief has put in motion since taking up the role last year. 

In a statement, Schumacher outlined the trio of priorities. He said Unilever would be “be more focused in allocating our resources towards our biggest sustainability priorities; be more urgent in driving actions towards our long-term ambitions; [and] be more systemic in our advocacy to address the enablers and blockers of progress outside of our direct control”. 

As part of those objectives, Unilever will concentrate on four “sustainability issues” encompassing the climate, nature, plastics and livelihoods. 

Schumacher did not provide the finer details, which for some aspects have quietly been put up on Unilever’s website. The key changes revolve around targets for cutting the use of virgin plastics, making packaging recyclable or reusable, support for SMEs and promoting the living wage in the supply chain. 

After previously pledging to cut the use of virgin plastics by 50% by 2025, Unilever has now downgraded that goal, aiming for a 30% reduction by 2026 and 40% by 2028. 

A commitment to make all of Unilever’s packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025 has now been pushed back to 2030 for rigid materials and 2035 for flexible components. 

“The reality is that Unilever’s sustainability agenda covers a wide range of issues,” Schumacher said in the statement, albeit not referring to those measures specifically. 

“We have learned from experience that we need to be more focused in our allocation of resources to make tangible progress on the big, complex challenges we face. 

“Our updated commitments are very stretching but they are also intentionally and, unashamedly, realistic. We want to set sustainability ambitions which are credible, which we believe we can deliver against, and which have real positive impact.” 

A pledge to foster a living wage for all of Unilever’s direct suppliers by 2030 has been brought forward to 2026 but amended to cover only 50%. 

Unilever had also previously committed to support five million SMEs in its “retail value chain” in growing their businesses by 2025 but that has been cut to 2.5m, although with the horizon extended to 2026. 

The progress Unilever has made in some areas of its sustainability agenda was outlined in the company’s 2023 annual report. 

That year, the use of virgin plastic was cut by 18%, from a 2019 baseline, building on a 13% reduction achieved in 2022. 

The use of reusable, recyclable or compostable plastic packaging as a percentage of total tonnes was 53% last year against the old 2025 goal, versus 55% in 2022 and 53% in 2021. 

Unilever has already laid out its ambitions for greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), which included targets through the supply chain, or Scope 3, for the first time.