The ninth edition of the influential Chocoa festival and conference has a different look and feel this year when it will be launched as virtual event from 24 February until 26 of February.
Always an early highlight of the conference calendar for the cocoa and chocolate industry, this year’s programme will be centred around the theme of child labour, an apt topic as 2021 has been designated International Year for the Elimination of Child labour.
Money is not the issue 'we discuss how impact investors that are looking for sustainability projects with a sound business case contribute to the eradication of child labour -- Jack Steijn, co-founder of Chocoa
Jack Steijn, co-founder of Chocoa, said child labour is also a topic in the first public session of the Dutch Initiative for Sustainable Cocoa, scheduled on the Friday morning, as well as in the session about Due Diligence, programmed by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO), also on Friday.
“We have five main topics at the conference. Child labour is a running thread in all five even if it is not a theme of its own. For instance, in the session ‘Data is King, digitization and supply chain transparency’ we discuss how improved data can contribute to the fight against child labour. In the topic ‘Impact Investment, money is not the issue’ we discuss how impact investors that are looking for sustainability projects with a sound business case contribute to the eradication of child labour,” he told ConfectioneryNews.
Key industry stakeholders
Featuring the Amsterdam Sustainable Cocoa Conference (ASCC) and the Chocolate Makers' Forum (CMF), Chocoa will invite key industry stakeholders to network and discuss important sustainability issues, trends, and burning topics within the cocoa and craft chocolate industry. An opening address from ICCO executive director Michel Arrion will launch proceedings on 24 February.
As we spoke, Steijn was busy finishing the list of guest speakers for the CMF, including: Santiago Peralta of Pacari (Ecuador), Greg D’Alesandre of Dandelion (USA), Warren Hsu of Fu Wan Chocolate (Taiwan), Brendan Drake of Hotel Chocolat (UK) and Estevan Sartoreli of Dengo (Brazil). “We’ll also have other stakeholders such as Brigitte Laliberté of Cocoa of Excellence, Leo Palmer of Twenty Degrees (UK) and Stephen Ashia of the ABOCFA cooperative of Ghana."
Organisers Equipoise are experts in cocoa and chocolate’s development of sustainable and future proof markets. The organisation is run as a social enterprise, to contribute to a fair market outcome for all stakeholders in the supply chain and for almost a decade it has developed the Chocoa conference as an important gathering of leading figures in the industry.
We had lots of ideas of topics to be covered, but it wasn’t until we had found the digital platform that we are using, Let’s Get Digital, that we decided to go ahead with the 2021 virtual edition of Chocoa -- Jack Steijn, co-founder of Chocoa
The 2021 conference will be held on a professional virtual platform providing participants with a real-life event experience despite the ongoing pandemic.
“People that have registered can select their own programme and join both the conference and the forum if they wish. We call these the main stage events. We also have a partner stage, where participants can choose to join a session that is hosted by one of our partners,” said Steijn.
Normally held in the august surroundings of Amsterdam’s old stock exchange building, Beurs van Berlage, Chocoa also has an excellent reputation for networking, which it wishes to continue this year online.
“All participants will be in a list that is accessible by all visitors online as well as in the Chocoa App. In our ‘meeting plaza’ we’ll have random meeting carousels that allow for meetings with persons selected by our algorithm, based on tags that visitors select upon registration. This offers the kind of serendipity of real live conferences, where you can meet people accidentally during coffee or cocoa breaks,” said Steijn.
Along with the thorny issue of child labour, topics such as re-thinking diversification, agroforestry, and digitisation are headlining at this year’s ASCC.
Over the past year, many events in the cocoa sector have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely. The Cocoa Barometer said it has been a setback for the sector in keeping sustainability issues at the top of the agenda.
Steijn and co-founder Caroline Lubbers said they felt a responsibility to organise this year’s event and ensure business meetings and networking opportunities stand at the forefront of the programme.
“We had lots of ideas of topics to be covered, but it wasn’t until we had found the digital platform that we are using, Let’s Get Digital, that we decided to go ahead with the 2021 virtual edition of Chocoa.
“We didn’t want to add another webinar to the long list as we wanted to offer something with the famous Chocoa twist. Not just one direction presentation with hardly a possibility to interact, but a programme with plenty of space for personal informal meetings and a platform that would offer the technical means to make it happen.
“When we read in the Cocoa Barometer how much informal contacts have been missing over the last year, due to the fact that all main cocoa events were cancelled or postponed, we knew we were on the right track,” said Steijn.
As well as covering the impact of Brexit, Chocoa 2021 will also discuss the impact of the US–EU dispute on subsidies for Airbus and Boeing on the cocoa and chocolate trade.
There will also be updates on any potential EU regulations that could impact the importing of chocolate into the zone.
“Discussions are still going on. The EU is active in many ways in the cocoa sector, and are also in discussions with Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire on bilateral agreements, said Steijn.
“The EU is also organising cocoa talks, offering a platform for stakeholders to discuss issues in the sector. Many of the topics that are being discussed are not only relevant for cocoa. Due diligence obligations will be effective for all sectors. Apart from what is happening on the legislative side, it is also important to look what is happening elsewhere.”
As an example, Steijn said a recent court case in the Netherlands of farmer groups and environmental activists against Shell established that Shell was liable for the negative impact of oil spill in the Niger delta and that the company must pay indemnities, which have not yet been determined by the courts.
The organisers of this year’s event said even in a virtual setting they hope that attendees will come away with a renewed sense of community and how “important it is to be able to meet each other, discuss and listen to what others have to say.”
“Chocoa is always a meeting place that is organised around the trade fair, where last year we had more than 80 booths of cocoa producers from all over the world, that are promoting their cocoa to cocoa traders and chocolate makers,” said Steijn.
As regards the state of the industry, Steijn believes the cocoa sector is ahead of other sectors.
“Even though a lot of problems remain, every stakeholder agrees on the direction to take out of the problems. Only the speed with which one wants to move ahead will vary. At Chocoa we always want to give another viewpoint. And we have programmed sessions that I hope we will bring new viewpoints that can contribute to a sustainable cocoa supply chain,” he said.
- For more information on this year’s Chocoa programme, how to participate, and where to get tickets go to www.chocoa.nl or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.