World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) president Martin Short opened the organisation’s Partnership Meeting with a call for action to the industry to work together to eliminate child labour from the supply chain and undertake a shared equity stake in the resolution of farmer income.
Short delivered the opening address, his first as WCF president, to more than 300 participants as they gathered online for two days of discussion and debate under the theme ‘Overcoming Challenges Together’.
To highlight the point of how he perceives little has changed over the years, he referenced two photos in front of him, one from 1959 and one from 2021, of working cocoa farmers; in both photos the men are barefoot, the only difference, said Short, was that one was in colour and the other in black and white.
Overcoming some initial technical difficulties with the live feed from his office in Washington, a suited Short told delegates he would like to make three points:
"Firstly, that poverty is the core of this problem – it is at the heart of child labour and deforestation ... secondary, everything we discuss over these two days needs to focus on this problem and finally, all participants in the supply chain need to work, share and compromise - including sharing traceability, protocols and data."
Short said that in the international year of the elimination of child labour, all forms of child labour remain unacceptable, but he said it is crucial that the industry needs to find solutions as to how this can be overcome.
This year’s WCF Partnership Meeting is devoting time and space to ensure participants can have a full debate on child labour, with the opening plenary including three sessions on the topic that continues to plague the cocoa sector.
“We need to find success not by reiterating the problem, or regurgitating historical data or the call for evermore research. Data collection is not the only benchmark by which progress and success can be measured," he said. "We are all responsible and no one can plead ignorance or abdicate responsibility."
He said progress has been made, but as it gone far enough? The very theme of this conference is overcoming challenges together, he reminded delegates.
"Partnerships mean to achieve a bigger goal, to reach the objectives of the alliance, private institutions, governments and individuals will have to leave their egos and their silos at the door. ... from the 20% of what we all hold dear may well have to be sacrificed to attain the objective that we seek and focus on the 80%," he said.
Short said that he is looking to the cocoa industry for systemic reform. “I admit to being disheartened by the continued over use of the word ‘sustainability’ without any regard for what mechanisms are required to be actioned to achieve this heavy goal.”
Short ended his speech by calling on delegates during the two days of discussion and debate, to ask themselves after every session one thing: ‘can the solutions or thoughts or actions that we have heard today in this session meaningfully improve the income of the farmer?' “If you cannot answer ‘yes,’ to that issue," he said, "then we have a problem.”