Is sustainability under threat?

Cargill’s Cocoa Promise – 10 years on, what lessons have been learned?

By Anthony Myers

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Cargill Chocolate Cocoa Sustainability

Cargill’s commitment to cocoa sustainability stretches back to 2000, when it began offering seminars to cocoa farmers. Kate Clancy has been with Cargill and working in sustainability since 2011, taking up her recent position of Group Sustainability Director, Cocoa & Chocolate at the end of 2021. She speaks exclusively to CN on the initiative and wider issues affecting sustainability in the cocoa supply chain.

In 2012, the company launched its Cargill Cocoa Promise and in 2017, aligned it to the five UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Recent updates include the launch of its Digital Solutions and CocoaWise Portal for customers. Cargill’s decade-long commitment to bring farmers, cocoa-growing cooperatives, and other industry stakeholders together is an ongoing commitment, Clancy tells ConfectioneryNews.

We've been working on sustainability issues for many years prior to the early 2000s when we first started operating in West Africa. We would introduce farmers to training programmes whereby we would support improving their productivity practices to ensure the quality of what they were supplying and to ensure they had market access - and that's actually evolved over time​.”


It has been a volatile year ... the pressure from climate change, the war in Ukraine, and the after-effects of the global pandemic, but when it comes to supply chains and costs and expectations on how society should run … I think that it actually means we will see increased interest in the sustainability  -- Kate Clancy


Working with its long-standing sustainability partner, the humanitarian agency, CARE, Clancy says Cargill realised there was more it could do in cocoa-growing communities - in addressing social development issues.

We also better-understood issues that the sector was facing, in particularly cocoa growing communities, and we felt that it was then time after we supported the development of the sustainability standard Utz to actually create a framework or a programme whereby we could encompass a point of view on how we felt we could support the sector in thriving and ensuring that cocoa farming could thrive for generations to come, and that's when the cocoa promise was launched in 2012​.”

Cargill says it has also made significant progress in key areas of cocoa sustainability such as helping farmers achieve a living income, empowering women and supporting children, harnessing agroforestry and GPS polygon mapping to fight deforestation, and the importance of first-mile traceability.

Along with similar schemes, the results are supposed to enable farmers and their communities achieve better incomes and living standards while growing cocoa sustainably – yet farmers still continue to struggle and their plight has worsened in the past 12 months, according to the 2022 Cocoa Barometer report​. One of the reasons is the global economic downturn, which has pushed down farmgate prices in West Africa and other regions.

What I found actually most noteworthy in the report was the acknowledgment that there are many actors in the supply chain and there is not only the private sector, there are not only suppliers, there's a number of different actors that all respectively need to play a role and this is this a very long game that is being played with the interests of many people​,” says Clancy.

Evolution of the Cargill Cocoa Promise

The Cargill Cocoa Promise was established in 2012 as a formal, future-looking and action-oriented framework for its global sustainability activities, building on 10 years of experience in the field with farmers and farmer organizations. In 2017, it introduced its Sustainability Goals, aligning ambitions with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This framework has allowed Cargill to broaden its scope to encompass its indirect cocoa supply chain and how it sources other ingredients used to produce chocolate.

When you ask, why don't we simply pay farmers more for their cocoa? I think it's important to understand some of the mechanics of cocoa pricing - and it's not just about the price of cocoa. Cocoa prices are set by a global market. They're driven by several factors that are outside of the control of any single market participant, including companies. Farmers are paid a farmgate price, and that price is actually set, and in some ways related to the global futures price. But those beans are then processed and the cocoa products are then what are sold.

So, there's many different things that need to be taken into account when you're looking at price and actually what you're trying to do is address poverty, and by doing that, it's not necessarily only about the price, but looking at the holistic set of interventions that need to be put in place to ensure that the farmer is more economically resilient, which means not only depending on cocoa but looking at different ways in which the farmer and their household can generate on and off-farm incomes.”

Cargill says it wants to accelerate progress toward a transparent global cocoa supply chain, to enable cocoa farmers and their communities to strengthen their socioeconomic resilience and to deliver a sustainable supply of cocoa and chocolate products from bean to end product.

It can achieve this ambition by leveraging its global reach and experience, and by working together with its vast network of partner organizations and stakeholders. These include 200 local farmer organizations as well as NGOs, governments and industry partners.

Clancy says she remains optimistic about not only its goals laid out in The Cargill Cocoa Promise -  but the wider picture for obtaining a transparent global supply chain.

It has been a volatile year​,” she says … “the pressure from climate change, the war in Ukraine, and the after-effects of the global pandemic, but when it comes to supply chains and costs and expectations on how society should run … I think that it actually means we will see increased interest in the sustainability of business and the sustainability of society at large, and if anything that will continue to create interest and expectation for the work that's being done.

And what I hope is that it will be increasingly mainstreamed and we'll accelerate the work that we're doing. So, I think the need will only increase, or, let's say the need is there and will remain … but I think the expectation to deliver will increase​.”

  • Listen to our full interview with Kate  in our special podcast edition.


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