World Food Day is galvanising global food companies to help support cocoa labourers, some of the poorest workers in the world, as more and more businesses are signing up to sustainability programmes.
With millions of people all over the world facing extreme poverty and starvation, businesses are facing increasing pressure from humanitarian groups and consumers, as well as perhaps their own consciences, to help the men and women who provide basic ingredients have a fair and comfortable way of life.
One such programme established recently is the cocoa sustainability initiative, set up by Netherlands-based coffee organisation Utz Certified, and supported by Cargill, Heinz Benelux and the supermarket chain Ahold.
"The cocoa sector is facing challenges in terms of social responsibility and the environment," said Lucas Simons, director of new programmes at Utz Certified. "Independent certification and transparency are important instruments for sustainable production, rural development and poverty reduction."
The group is currently working on a Code of Conduct and a traceability system for all cocoa providers in the Ivory Coast, one of the biggest suppliers of cocoa to the US and Europe.
"Cargill has for a long time had a strong commitment to sustainability supply chains, and we want to help farmers get a good deal," Cargill spokesman Steven Fairbairn told ConfectioneryNews.com. "Joining this programme is the next step in consolidating the company's efforts."
Together, the various organisations involved will put the code of conduct in practice through pilot schemes in 2008, and local farmers will have a say in setting up the criteria.
"Sustainability is important in the cocoa industry, and is in the interests of the farmers and the consumers," Fairbairn added.
With 90 per cent of Ivorian cocoa being exported to Europe and North America, for example, food companies can hardly forget the massive role they play in helping give suppliers a decent standard of life. About 60.1 per cent of exports went to the EU in the growing season 2005-2006.
The International Labour Rights Forum (ILRF) yesterday praised the scheme, as well as the key players who helped to set it up.
"As a major buyer and processor of cocoa beans from Ivory Coast for the world market, Cargill's commitment and its desire to seek cooperation with other interested companies in the cocoa chain signals an important step forward in promoting labor and environmental improvements in the cocoa industry," said spokesman Tim Newman.
Later today, key players from the cocoa industry will participate in a discussion in London, entitled "The role of commodities in Developing Countries."
Jan Vingerhoets, the executive director of the International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO), is one of the key speakers at the event, and will present his commitment to supporting the smallholder cocoa farmers who usually live below the United Nations (UN) poverty line.
According to the World Food Day website, a mind-boggling 854 million people live below this poverty line and go to sleep every night with an empty belly, while 25,000 people die of starvation every day.
This year the theme for World Food Day, organised by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), is the Right to Food, "an inherent human right of every woman, man, girl and boy, wherever they live on the planet."
The FAO recognises that sustainable farming, or in other words giving people the skills to feed themselves "by strengthening productivity and livelihoods" is a vital in helping support communities.
Food companies should not forget that they are a major key in helping to build these livelihoods, and that any moves they take to support the poorest workers on their pay roles can improve human lives, as well as their own profits.