The Chocolate challenge – could it provide lessons for other EUDR commodities?

7 February 2024

The Chocolate challenge – could it provide lessons for other EUDR commodities?

Chocolate’s complex supply chain faces no shortage of challenges, some longstanding and entrenched, others that arise due to implementation of the EU Regulation on deforestation-free products (EUDR). Amsterdam Cocoa Week (5-11 February 2024) gathers industry leaders, policymakers, and civil society and farmer representatives to align approaches to the cocoa sector’s key problems. Understanding and addressing the difficulties confronting small cocoa farmers must figure at the heart of discussions, and of the Commission’s upcoming review of the Sustainable Cocoa Initiative’s progress.  

For years, the EU’s Sustainable Cocoa Initiative with Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana has attempted to tackle the worst sins of the cocoa sector: child labour and child trafficking, deforestation, and the failure to provide a living wage to the farmers themselves.  

Fern’s new report, “Assessment of the EU Sustainable Cocoa Initiative” offers a well-rounded tour of stakeholder perspectives to inform the Commission’s mid-term review; it finds that the Initiative has encouraged, as never before, dialogue between producer country and consumer country governments, has driven the development of national traceability systems, and laid essential groundwork for practical implementation of EUDR obligations.  

Important gaps remain, nonetheless. Broadly, systems for monitoring child labour and deforestation are inadequate, and the robustness and transparency of cocoa traceability systems must be strengthened to earn the trust of the companies that rely on them. Issues that still need to be clarified include land tenure, traditional rights and labour law, companies’ obligations under domestic law and it is not sure how this lack of clarity will affect compliance with EU regulations. Although “Cocoa Talks” between governments have improved, non-inclusive discussion formats continue to hamper effective progress; Fern’s report suggests specific areas where regular dialogue would be beneficial.  

Small farmers are the life’s blood of the cocoa supply chain, and its most vulnerable link. Two of Fern’s partners in Cameroon, Green Development Advocates and Centre pour l’Environnement et le Développement, carried out field research into the priorities and concerns of Cameroon’s smallholders. In addition to aggravating the threat to Cameroon’s forests, their government’s ambition to double cocoa production in coming years carries tremendous implications for family farmers’ livelihoods.  

For most smallholders, the EUDR arrives on the heels of various certification schemes’ broken promises of better incomes and sustainability. They are frightened that new obligations will push them deeper into poverty. There are many outstanding issues which could be a threat or an opportunity. These include being barred from forest expansion when no other alternatives exist; squaring the use of fallow land and of shade-grown cocoa with deforestation definitions; accessing the necessary technical and financial support needed to rejuvenate ageing cocoa cultures; and the role of voracious middlemen.  

The Commission’s Team Europe Initiative (FW 291) devotes €70 million and a technical facility to support smallholder implementation, making an important stride towards grasping the opportunity to integrate smallholders into EUDR processes. On 1 February Fern held an event to explore lessons from civil society, private interests and EU officials, in an effort to ensure that the cocoa industry also rise to the challenge of ensuring living wages for family famers, while protecting forest strongholds. 

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