Heidi Hautala, vice-president of the European Parliament and a former Minister for International Development and State Ownership Steering of Finland, told delegates at the WCF Partnership Meeting in Berlin there is a fresh momentum for a responsible cocoa sector in the EU and a recognition that legislation is required to ‘create a level playing field’ and support responsible companies and their voluntary certification schemes.
What is required is “the right combination of mandatory, voluntary, national and international measures, that are needed to effectively force businesses to respect human rights,” she said.
Irresponsible companies or ‘freeriders’ should not be able to reap the profits at the cost of the responsible ones. “To my mind these changes can be achieved only through legislative measures for all the actors in the field.”
What kind of legislation is needed?
Hautala said mandatory due diligence at EU level is very clear in her mind, but what kind of legislation is needed? She referred to the French Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law that places the onus on large companies to identify and prevent risks to human rights and the environment that could occur as a result of their business activities. “But companies need to come up with a strategy to mitigate these risks and they need to report this information publicly,” she said.
The EU vice-president also praised voluntary initiatives over the past 10 years, “that have brought us to this point, but it is evident that all problems are not solved. We need to consider new means to fight against deforestation, to eradicate child labor and to empower and improve the livelihoods of the cocoa farmers and their wages to benefit their communities.”
Supply chain due diligence legislation would require companies to make sure that no illegally produced cocoa, or cocoa not produced in accordance with social and environmental standards, would end up in the supply chain.
Burden not on consumer
Hautala said she understood the issues of tracing the true origin of cocoa and verifying the sustainability of a supply chain is difficult. “But that burden cannot be placed on an individual consumer, every consumer has a right to assume that no matter which chocolate he or she buys they are not, even indirectly, contributing to social or environmental problems.”
She closed her speech by saying the EU needs to get its act together, it is the biggest internal market in the world and therefore any legislation would radiate way beyond its borders and would be an important way to sustainability and respect of human rights, not only in cocoa, but on the planet as a whole.