Paying to meet ISO cocoa standard would push farmers below poverty line, warns ICCFO chief

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

ISO sustainable cocoa standard nears completion: Continued ‘misery’ for farmers, or significant progress? Photo: iStock/NLshop
ISO sustainable cocoa standard nears completion: Continued ‘misery’ for farmers, or significant progress? Photo: iStock/NLshop

Related tags Cocoa farmers International organization for standardization International cocoa farmers organization

An incoming international standard on sustainable cocoa will bring farmers ‘one big step below the poverty-line’ if it remains unchanged, argues a farmers’ group.

But chair of the committee behind the standard says it will make farmers more competitive and reiterates the standard is not yet finalized.

Although stakeholders have yet to agree how the standard will be funded, International CoCoa Farmers Organization​ ​(ICCFO) secretary general M. Sako Warren is concerned farmers will end up footing the bill, driving the group's members further below the poverty line.

Paris meet

The European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) are developing a joint standard for traceable and sustainable cocoa​ that can be used as a voluntary reference for company programs.

State of the standard

status update - JaysonPhotography

Stakeholders are fine-tuning the agreed text for the ISO/CEN standard following a week-long meeting in Paris in mid-March. The standard will comprise several parts. The first three parts will be published for a public consultation in the autumn of this year and will also be translated in French and Spanish. The final standard is expected in 2017.

It is being drawn up by multiple stakeholders including representatives from Mondelēz International and Ferrero as well as NGOs, farmers, producer governments and certification organizations.

Stakeholders recently met in Paris ahead of a public consultation period set for October this year.

The poverty line

“On the side of farmers it’s very disappointing,” ​ICCFO  head Sako Warren told ConfectioneryNews.

“It’s bringing farmers back one big step below the poverty line,” ​he said.

“I made them understand that we are not happy with the document… it will be a continuation of the misery imposed on farmers.

Who pays?

He is worried cocoa farmers may themselves need to pay to meet the standards, but stakeholders have yet to agree on financing.

“Farmers will need another certification to get to market ​[on top of Fairtrade/UTZ] … The farmer will pay double … I told them it’s totally impossible,” ​said Warren. “The people calling for the standard should be the ones who pay.”

He said industry could finance farmers, but warned farmers should not be held to exclusive supply contacts to industry as a result.

Paris document not the final version, says committee chair

Jack Steijn, chair of the CEN committee on sustainable and traceable cocoa said the standard was still a working draft. “Things will still change,”​ he said, adding that the standard will not be compulsory.

Compliance and labelling claims

chocolate wrapper - Zsöllér Ervin

Initially, no label was planned for the ISO/CEN sustainable cocoa standard as it wasn’t intended to be consumer facing. A working group is now exploring the possibility for companies to claim compliance. “This part will also be published for public consultation later this year,”​ said Jack Steijn, chair of the CEN sustainable cocoa committee. “It is premature to say what it will look like. In general, the ISO organization does not cater for the use of ISO labels. A label could only indicate that a product of an organization is meeting requirements of a certain ISO standard,”​ he said.

“This standard is being written to meet the needs of the farmers in an effort to make cocoa farmers more globally competitive and sustainable. As such, throughout the development of this document, all stakeholders, including ICCFO, were actively involved,”​ he said.

Steijn added there was no calculation on likely investment costs for farmers hoping to meet the standard at this stage.

He continued: “There are no requirements about certification costs within the standard. There are only requirements about transparency of negotiations and about contracts on initial investments and premiums.”

Industry-funded body the World Cocoa Foundation – whose members include Mars, Mondelēz and Ferrero – declined to comment.

Consensus farmers shouldn’t pay, says Voice Network

Antonie Fountain, managing director of Voice Network, an association of European NGOs and trade unions such as Oxfam and STOP THE TRAFFIK, said there was consensus among stakeholders that financing was needed for farmers to meet the incoming standards.

“Everyone agrees it should not be at the cost of the farmer,” ​he said. “If, as a purchaser, you want to demand your supplier to do more, you have to pay for it.”

“The question is how this will be put in place,” ​said Fountain, who was present at the recent Paris meeting.

Fountain added that stakeholders discussing the ISO/CEN standard had discussed industry securing first-refusal rights on cocoa from farms they have paid to meet the standard.

“It makes sense that the people who do the investment would be incentivized,” ​he said. “But there doesn’t seem to be risk mitigation for farmers like there is for companies,” ​despite farmers being the weakest actors in the supply chain, he said.

Possible ways to protect farmers may be via a guaranteed minimum price or contracts for a buyer to secure a certain percentage of cocoa at a fixed rate, said Fountain. But solutions still need work, he added.

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