Environmental concerns are top of mind for most companies, and in certain industries, the stakes of companies’ sustainability efforts are especially high.
Agriculture in the tropics is one of those industries. A troubling amount of deforestation, for example, has long accompanied cocoa farming. Instances of child labor, or work that is hazardous for children, has been widely reported to occur in some farming communities in cocoa-producing West African countries such as Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire . Child labor and the rare instances of forced child labor remain material issues for the industry overall.
It takes all stakeholders including cocoa-producing country governments, NGOs, cocoa farmers, processors, and confectionery companies big and small, to confront these issues in a way that achieves lasting change that benefits cocoa farmers, their families and their communities.
The Hershey Company has been committed since 2018 to no new deforestation in its global cocoa supply chain, a commitment we reinforced with our No Deforestation policy that we made public in 2021. Hershey is committed to tackling child labor issues by supporting the implementation of Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS)* coverage to 100% of farmers producing Hershey’s cocoa volumes in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, where the risk of child labor is high, by 2025. But those sustainability commitments are just the start; Hershey’s sustainable cocoa strategy, Cocoa For Good focuses on protecting the environment, eliminating child labor and supporting children’s nutrition, and improving farmer incomes and livelihoods.
Tackling environmental issues
In Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the world’s two leading producers of cocoa, deforestation and biodiversity loss due to the encroachment of agriculture on protected areas are manifestations of a complex set of root causes. These include poverty, the absence of land titles and land tenure arrangements (as land ownership is regulated by a complex interplay of centuries-old traditions and concepts introduced during colonialism and later) and insufficient incentives to adopt sustainable farming practices.
That’s why improving cocoa-growing environments starts with understanding them in the most thorough ways possible.
Satellite monitoring and polygon mapping of farms allow companies such as Hershey and farmers to gain visibility into the physical boundaries of farms and know their exact sizes. (Hershey suppliers have polygon mapped 46%1 of the farms that produce the cocoa volume used by the company, on the way to the 100% goal that Hershey set for itself for 2025)
“It’s important to know the contours of a farm so that we can be sure that cocoa is not being produced on a farm that has encroached on a national park or other a protected area,” said Angela Tejada Chavez, Head of Sustainable Sourcing at Hershey’s and lead for Cocoa For Good. “Seeing the contours also helps us to estimate what the yields are so those farmers get appropriate support and receive additional remuneration when they go the extra mile to adopt sustainable farming practices. Seeing the contours of the farm is a first experience for most farmers, providing them with a different perspective of their farms.”
Mapping farms helps ease the sometimes laborious process of obtaining accurate land titles and land-tenure certificates. Hershey is a founding member of the Côte d’Ivoire Land Partnership (CLAP), a partnership between the Ivorian government, chocolate and cocoa companies, Meridia, German Cooperation GIZ, and BDSI the Association of the German Confectionary Industry, helping rural cocoa-growing communities strengthen land governance and build better intra-community relationships. The aim of this partnership is to bring affordable land documentation for cocoa farmers at scale.
Hershey partners with its suppliers, farmers, local governments and community-based groups to provide farm-development plans and ongoing education for farmers to improve yields, diversify their crops — by growing things such as cassava, yams or hot peppers — and engage in climate-smart growing techniques. All of these efforts help improve the lives of the farmers by providing them with incomes from multiple sources. Since 2018, the company has provided support to distribute more than 1.3 million non-cocoa trees that provide shade cocoa needs and help improve the farm conditions.
Caring for child and community well-being
Child labor is a symptom of poverty, so helping to improve livelihoods in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana also helps reduce instances of child labor, including forced child labor.
To this end, Hershey supports the Living Income Differential, established by the two countries’ governments in 2020, in addition to the premiums it pays for cocoa produced by independently verified farmer groups. Hershey also supports women achieving economic self-sufficiency through Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), informal community-level banking groups in which 15 to 25 people, mostly women, pool small amounts of money to provide small loans for group members or to dispense for collective problems (such as repairing a village water pump) or individual emergencies.
“With VSLAs, people in remote areas, especially women, have access to money,” said Federica Joele, a sustainable sourcing representative with Hershey. “Many of them reinvest it in small businesses to create extra income or they will invest in their farmland, or in ad hoc needs like school fees or medical fees so that they don’t get into debt with local moneylenders.” Hershey now directly supports 199 VSLAs with 5,879 members, 79% of whom are women.
Supporting women helps support children, but it’s also important for children in cocoa-producing West African countries to participate in school. In October 2021, Hershey signed a five-year, agreement with the Jacobs Foundation, the Government of Côte d’Ivoire Ministry of Education and Literacy, and 14 other chocolate producers and cocoa suppliers, to implement the Child Learning and Education Facility (CLEF). This new public-private initiative will contribute to improved foundational literacy and numeracy skills for five million children at primary school level and includes an investment in 2,500 new classrooms.
Taking a holistic approach
With its Cocoa For Good strategy now in its fourth year, Hershey’s is expanding the CLMRS program to 100% coverage of its cocoa volume across Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana by 2025. It is also expanding the innovative Energize Learning project, which provides nearly 50,000 at-risk schoolchildren in Ivory Coast and Ghana with a nutritional supplement based on peanut butter that contains 30% of a child’s daily vitamin needs But when it comes to the complexities of a high-stakes industry such as cocoa, sustainability commitments are just the start. It takes a holistic strategy, like Cocoa For Good, based on partnerships with all the players from industry, NGOs and governments, to tackle issues at their root causes.
“We want to support people to obtain the right skills, and they also need the right assets,” Tejada Chavez said. “Whether it’s these life-changing pieces of paper, such as land titles or certificates, or access to money provided through VSLAs, or training on how to improve farm yields on existing land without encroaching on forests, we’re doing all of these things, and together they can make a real and long-lasting change for the better in cocoa-growing communities.”
For more in-depth information, access Hershey’s 2021 Sustainability Report here.
*CLMRS is the leading platform for identifying, tracking and remediating potential cases of child labor. Remediation may involve educating the farmer on appropriate forms of child work, providing training on proper use of pesticides on the farm, introducing child-safe tools and other equipment to farmers, or helping the family get birth certificates and school supplies for children so they can attend school. CLMRS is executed by Hershey’s suppliers and community-based groups that identify child labor and monitor and remediate when cases are found
- Beginning in 2021, to be considered polygon mapped, all farm plots managed by the farmer must be mapped, as defined by the World Cocoa Foundation. Previously a farmer was considered polygon mapped if at least one plot of land was mapped.