The chocolate industry is behind in tackling some cocoa supply issues and must work more closely to avert shortages, according to Mars’ head of sustainability.
Andrew Pederson, global chocolate manager for sustainability at Mars, told ConfectioneryNews.com the industry could never guarantee complete freedom from unlawful labor practices or a fully environmentally-friendly cocoa economy.
“Maybe we can come to 99%, but there is no way at any time that we can guarantee no questionable environmental or labor practices,” he said. “We can never be sure, even with a randomized audit.”
Asked if the industry had reacted too late, Pederson said: “Yes, no question about it. The industry is behind and we are in a critical state.”
The industry pledged to completely eliminate the worst forms of child labor by 2005 in the 2001 Harkin Engel Protocol.
Mars made its largest commitment in 2009, while major pledges from other big players came mainly last year against a backdrop where the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO ) forecasts that demand for cocoa will outstrip supply by 2017.
Mars’ sustainability program is threefold: Certification, research and technology transfer.
Mars began its commitment to sourcing 100% certified cocoa by 2020 in 2009 and around 20% (90,000 metric tons) of its supply is currently certified through organizations such as UTZ and Fairtrade.
Mars is also conducting agricultural research, such as mapping cocoa genomes to develop disease resistant crops that can increase yields.
The final component, technology transfer, involves transferring equipment and skills to farmers through programs such as Mars’ Vision for Change, which helps farmers boost yields and encourages children to choose school over cocoa farms.
Mars has around 20 staff dedicated to sustainability and plans to spend $30m per year on cocoa sustainability.
Pederson said that farmer incomes would take around seven years to sort out, but that the farmer was at the heart of everything he did.
“If it’s not benefiting the farmer, we are off track,” he said.
“In a perfect world there would be much more convergence in what we do. What we really need to transform the industry is for everyone to come together,” said Pederson.
He said that joint industry efforts had previously only been successful on a limited basis but major chocolate players had started to cooperate on larger scale projects and had met at the World Cocoa Conference in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in November last year to consolidate efforts.