by Michael Smith (Veshengro)
At the approach to Easter with the Western world going mad for chocolate, confectionery giant Mars has announced it is working with the Rainforest Alliance to secure ethically-sourced cocoa for its chocolate production on an unprecedented scale.
While chocolate for ethical consumers has been available for quite a number of years now, initially via the Fraitrade Foundation certification, this is the first time that such a major player has publicly committed to taking major steps towards sustainable procurement.
Mars has said it aims to buy enough Rainforest Alliance certified cocoa to produce all of its Galaxy chocolate bars by early 2010 and will purchase all its cocoa from certified sources by 2020.
In order for this to be achieved, the Rainforest Alliance will have to ensure that enough farms meet its standards to produce 100,000 tons of cocoa a year by 2020.
This is expected to lead to improvements for many thousands of cocoa farmers in west Africa and other regions.
There are an estimated two million cocoa growers in Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana, which together produce about 80% of the world's cocoa supply.
Nearly all cocoa is grown on small, family farms that are vulnerable to disease, inclement weather and price fluctuations.
Since farmers manage small plots of about three hectares, the amount of cocoa beans required for Galaxy alone will require the annual harvest of several thousand farmers.
Mars' announcement that all Galaxy chocolate is going to be “fair trade” follows on the heels of Cadbury's decision to use a seal from the Fairtrade Foundation for its Dairy Milk chocolate bar by the end of the summer.
Mars is partnering with the Rainforest Alliance, which has developed a a certified-sustainable seal with clear environmental, labor and production requirements.
"Mars' commitment to buying sustainable cocoa is unprecedented in size and scope, and the benefits to farmers, farmworkers, tropical environments and wildlife will be tangible," said Tensie Whelan, president of the Rainforest Alliance.
"This initiative is an example of the tremendous impact global companies can have when they commit to sustainability. I have recently returned from Ghana, where I saw firsthand the problems, the improvements and the possibilities."
Rainforest Alliance certification ensures that goods and services are produced in compliance with strict guidelines protecting the environment, wildlife, workers and local communities.
But it is a shame though that may of the the larger companies seem to avoid going the real Fairtrade route, that is to say that of the Fairtrade Foundation; the route that Cadbury's is going to go. While the Rainforest Alliance standards are better than nothing they are in no way as stringent as those of the original players in the game, namely the Fairtrade Foundation.
This is not only so, as regards to the opting for the easier way, e.g. the Rainforest Alliance, rather than the Fairtrade Foundation certification, in the cocoa, that is to say, chocolate sector. We see the same in the area of coffee and tea. Many of the larger companies seem to be scared to commit to the standards that the Fairtrade Foundation would ask of them and opt for the somewhat easier ones of the Rainforest Alliance or even other, laxer ones.
Let the customer beware that not all supposedly ethical certification systems are the same.
by Michael Smith (Veshengro)