The Corporate Accountability Lab has published a damning report on the effectiveness – or what it sees as the complete lack of effectiveness – of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts in the chocolate industry.
Between October 2018 and March 2019, Corporate Accountability Lab (CAL) staff interviewed farmers and tribal leaders in cocoa-growing villages, cooperatives and local and international NGOs to assess the impact of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts in the industry, and to identify the root causes of the serious and ongoing problems in the cocoa sector: child labour, trafficking and deforestation.
“What we saw was appalling,” said CAL. “CSR efforts have had a nearly imperceptible impact on the lives of cocoa farmers and their communities.
“The sustainability claims of major chocolate brands and agribusiness companies not only mislead consumers, they obfuscate a system that relies on child labour, forced labour, and debt servitude to survive.”
In its report, the CAL identified four major obstacles to meaningful progress in the sector:
- ‘Unliveable Income’: the government-set ‘farm gate’ price for cocoa is around one-third the amount needed for farmers or workers to earn a living wage.
- Reliance on ‘CSR’ over responsible business conduct: companies rarely mention their business and human rights obligations and instead have relied on ineffective certification schemes while failing to comply with their voluntary commitments, despite nearly 20 years of CSR activity in the sector.
- Superficial analysis of root causes: excessive focus on the symptoms of poverty (child labour, forced labour, trafficking) over the root cause of poverty (dramatically skewed value distribution in the supply chain) have distracted from identifying the role of multinational companies in generating abuses.
- Lack of involvement of farmers, farmer groups, and civil society in the ongoing conversations and initiatives around the issues in the sector: farmers lack access to information and participation, local groups working with farmers and communities have limited support, and international groups either have insufficient access to local partners or take an engagement approach that allows companies to whitewash their actions.
“We make one primary recommendation: companies should increase the price they pay for cocoa, industry-wide,” said CAL. “This price increase can, and should, be part of a broader sustainability effort.
“Government has a critical role to play, too, but companies must not wait for governments in producing and buying countries to act in order to fulfil their own responsibilities.
“Companies have benefited for years from an unsustainable low price, and it is time for accountability for creating the conditions that have led to extreme poverty, deforestation, child labour and trafficking across the sector. Without meaningfully addressing this root cause, their CSR activities are little more than window dressing.”