What did Divine Chocolate learn at Davos? CEO weighs in on Brexit, Theresa May, Trump and women’s issues

By Douglas Yu

- Last updated on GMT

Kuapa Kokoo, a Fairtrade certified farmers' co-operative that supplies Divine with most of its cocoa, owns 44% of the chocolate firm's business.  Photo: Richard Nicholson
Kuapa Kokoo, a Fairtrade certified farmers' co-operative that supplies Divine with most of its cocoa, owns 44% of the chocolate firm's business. Photo: Richard Nicholson

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Divine Chocolate's CEO Sophie Tranchell discusses takeaways from the World Economic Forum last month in Davos, Switzerland.

She commended collective efforts from social entrepreneurs, but acknowledged that the current global economic and political situation, including Brexit and Trump’s presidency, destabilizes business across the board, including for the chocolate industry.

Divine is part owned by a cocoa farming cooperative and recently joined B Corps​ in the hope of making its business more transparent..

Tell me how your business is performing right now.

“The Divine Chocolate AGM, which was held this month at Kuapa Kokoo’s headquarters in Kumasi, Ghana, ratified the arrival of two new Board members. David Croft was instrumental in leading the Fairtrade strategy at Co-op and in converting Cadbury’s to Fairtrade and is now Global Sustainable Development Director at Diageo. Cheryl Pinto is Values Led Sourcing Manager at Ben & Jerry’s, another Fairtrade champion with Fairtrade certification across its entire product range."

What drove you to the Davos’ World Economic forum in the first place?

“As a Schwab Social Entrepreneur of the Year, I am invited to all the World Economic Forum events around the world including Davos.  It was an exciting and unique opportunity to mix with world leaders in business, government and academia, discussing the most pressing topics impacting on the world today.  I was particularly inspired to meet social entrepreneurs from all over the world running innovative initiatives to help a wide variety of disadvantaged communities – their energy and commitment was very impressive.”

What’s your biggest takeaway at the event that could potentially benefit your business?

“Divine has always flourished through partnerships with organizations and companies that share values and objectives – and there were many potential good partners there at Davos.  It was great to meet Oxfam International’s executive director Winnie Byanyima and talk about Divine’s long partnership with Oxfam. It was good to meet with Grow Africa who were keen to ensure more smallholder farmers around the world can benefit from initiatives that build on the best practice developed by Divine.”

“I came away inspired to take our mission at Divine to a new level – and knowing that Divine’s farmer-owned business model is a very good example of how to address the major inequalities in world food chains right now.”

Which political leader did you pay particular attention to? What’s your takeaway from him/her?

“It was inspiring to see four African heads of state demonstrating their commitment to the UN’s sustainable development goals, and to hear from the Swedish Prime Minister who has been instrumental in developing the goals.”

Modern Slavery Act through Parliament.  It comes into effect this year and requires companies turning over more that £36 million to report on what they have done to ensure that there is no slavery in their supply chains. It will also have an impact on SMEs that supply bigger companies.  It is a problem that effects 45 million people and requires a global response.  It was encouraging to see May’s personal commitment this Act and good to see UK leading the way with passing legislation, with other countries planning to also follow suit.”

Did World Economic Forum underscore the role of women in business at all? How was it addressed?

“I was pleased to hear that, following a drive to increase women’s attendance, women delegates at Davos had gone up from 18% to 21% from last year to this – an encouraging sign that there are more women leaders and their voices are being heard in this forum, but there is still a long way to go.  I went to a dinner where the focus was on what needs to be done to get more women in positions of seniority and the consensus was that women should be more ambitious. At another session, Winnie Byanyima (Oxfam) made a very strong presentation about the curse of inequality and how everyone would benefit from tackling it.”

Linda, Victoria and Sophi
Sophi Tranchell with cocoa farmers in Ghana. Photo: Divine Chocolate

What are the challenges for women in business especially in the chocolate industry? What should the industry do to overcome them?

“Divine is particularly focused on the women cocoa farmers who are key to the life blood of the chocolate industry. Divine’s spring campaign focuses especially on these women – and we are celebrating how Kuapa Kokoo (the farmers’ co-op that owns Divine) has, for 20 years, in partnership with Divine and various NGOs, prioritized tackling gender equality –giving women the skills, education, training and mentoring they need to be able to take their rightful place in their organization and their communities and access the same benefits as men.”

“Women fare particularly badly in the cocoa supply chain – receiving even less benefit from their crops than men, despite often being the ones who ensure the quality and therefore the value of the produce.  Kuapa Kokoo and Divine have together been very effective at addressing this issue.”

Do you think women’s role in business might be affected by Trump’s presidency and Brexit?

“Brexit raises the opportunity to create new trade deals that will be good for smallholder farmers – both men and women. A number of NGOs and organizations, such as Traidcraft and the Fairtrade Foundation, are calling on the government to make sure that Brexit works for the people who trade with us from the poorest countries.”

Do you think Trump and Brexit might affect Divine’s business especially its US and UK businesses united in 2015?

Both Brexit and changes in trade policy in the USA could indeed have major impacts on any UK company doing business overseas, whether due to exchange rates, changing tariff barriers, or lack of alignment between food standards in different countries.  It will be important to ensure the maintenance of high food standards, and to resist any shift towards lowering these standards.”

How do you think the current global economic situation may affect the chocolate industry? How should the industry be prepared?

“Brexit and the US presidency are creating a climate of uncertainty which destabilizes business across the board.  The issues listed above will have industry-wide impacts.”

“Obesity is also a global issue – threatening to have an unmanageable impact on health, and in turn the cost of public health care around the world.  This is certainly a challenge to the chocolate industry.”

What’s next for Divine Chocolate? 

“Divine is looking to consolidate its growth in USA, where new business is especially buoyant, as well as looking at potential new export territories.  Our new product plans are especially focused on creating more delicious dark chocolate products with less sugar – tapping in to the continuing trend for healthy eating, and portion control. Increasing the number of dark chocolate products we make also plays to our mission – as it means we are buying more cocoa, and delivering more benefits to our farmer owners.” 

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