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Nestlé promises action to improve women’s lives on cocoa farms

By Oliver Nieburg+

08-Mar-2013
Last updated the 08-Mar-2013 at 12:29 GMT

Women small-scale farmers in Africa own just 1% of agricultural land. Photo credit: Oxfam
Women small-scale farmers in Africa own just 1% of agricultural land. Photo credit: Oxfam

Chocolate giant Nestlé has written to Oxfam promising action on inequality in the cocoa supply chain.

Oxfam recently published its Behind the Brands  scorecard ranking the top 10 global food and drink firms on supply chain accountability. It called on chocolate makers Nestlé, Mars and Mondelez to conduct third party assessments to help women cocoa farmers, who face unequal pay, discrimination and hunger.

Tackling issue under Cocoa Plan

José Lopez, Nestlé executive vice president operations and globe, responded yesterday with a letter to an Oxfam policy advisor.

“On the issue of women in the cocoa supply chain, please be assured of our utmost attention to this important topic.”

He said that in the short term Nestlé would explore how it can improve women’s lives through the Nestlé Cocoa Plan and the Rural Development framework.

Nestlé established its Cocoa Plan after a probe from the Fair Labor Association (FLA) last year.

Following its probe, the FLA had urged Nestlé to improve participation of women in farmer field schools and give female farmers better access to extension services and micro credit.

NGO Stop the Traffik has complained that the Nestlé Cocoa Plan only covers 15% of Nestlé’s cocoa supplies, leaving 85% neglected.

Rural Development framework

Nestlé Cocoa Supply

Nestlé along with Mondelez and Mars purchase 40% of the world’s cocoa supply. The Tropical Commodity Coalition’s 2010 Cocoa Barometer put Nestlé’s total cocoa volume at around 360,000 metric tons.

Nestlé also developed a Rural Development framework in November last year that aims to support farmers and cocoa growing communities.

“Specific gender indications have already been integrated into the Framework, which combines a human rights approach together with a human development approach,” said Lopez.

“As I am sure you can appreciate it will take some weeks before a more detailed plan can be put together which can be applied consistently across the organization. We will need to work together with all stakeholders as one company alone cannot solve these issues.”

Welcomed by Oxfam

Oxfam's Behind the Brands campaign manager Alison Woodhead welcomed Nestlé’s stated intention: “They are the first of the 3 big chocolate companies targeted by Behind the Brands to do this publicly.”

Oxfam pressing Nestle, Mars and Mondelez to:

(a) assess and disclose how women are faring in their cocoa supply chain (b) formulate a plan of action to address the issues raised by their assessment, and (c) announce steps to use their influence with other powerful actors to ensure women in their supply chains have a fair shot.

She said Oxfam looked forward to seeing a detailed plan in the next few weeks.

Lopez said that the majority of coop members in Nestlé’s Cocoa plan and those participating in and giving training were men - but Nestlé was working with at least one women’s farmers association.

“We will report transparently on our progress and ensure regular updates,” said Lopez.

Oxfam demonstrations

Oxfam campaigners will hold demonstrations at Nestlé, Mars and Mondelez headquarters in the US to mark International Women’s Day today.

Mondelez has said that it addresses gender questions in the initial needs assessment in its Cocoa Life program, while Mars has failed to respond to our calls.

Yields lower for women

According to the United Nations, women make up over 40% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, but yields for women farmers are 20-30% lower than for men because women have less access to improved seeds, fertilizers and equipment.

The UN said in a joint statement today: “Improving equality in women's access to agricultural inputs (such as seeds, tools, and fertilizers), education and public services would contribute significantly to achieving food security and better nutrition for all.”

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