Oxfam aftermath: Women central to the future of cocoa, says Mars

Oxfam last year called on the big chocolate companies to improve conditions for female cocoa farmers, who are often marginalized and receive unequal pay. Mars issues its response. Photo Credit: Oxfam

A sustainable cocoa supply chain is reliant on women, who provide a large portion of the labor and often invest earnings on items that benefit their community, says Mars Chocolate in a response to harsh criticism.

In late December, Mars Chocolate published a report on the role of women on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast, the principal cocoa growing nation. It followed calls from Oxfam urging the major chocolate manufacturers to conduct audits on conditions for women after finding evidence of unequal pay, discrimination and hunger.

Mars: Recognize women as farmers

First, since women perform 45% of the work on cocoa farms, it is inefficient from an economic standpoint not to view them as farmers and to fail to facilitate their participation in training and their access to inputs,” said the report authored by private consultant Margaret Greene.

“Second, given women’s role in their families and homes, their social and economic marginalization has implications for the health, nutrition and education of their families. Involving women more systematically thus has the potential to increase the productivity of cocoa farms, and to improve the wellbeing of families and communities.”

What needs to be done?

According to the United Nations, women account for over 40% of the labor on farms in Africa, but own just 1% of the agricultural land. Women farmers' productivity is around 20-30% lower than for men because women have less access to improved seeds, fertilizer and equipment.

The report said that while Mars’ sustainable cocoa initiative Vision for Change was reaching some women, they were often marginalized by male-centred governance structures.

The paper recommended that Mars’ cocoa sustainability managers receive gender and agriculture training. It also urged Mars to hire female technicians at its cocoa development centers.

Other recommendations included helping women farmers gain access to micro-savings to invest in productivity and to disseminate gender lessons as part of the Vision for Change program.

What will Mars do?

Andrew Harner, Mars Chocolate's Global Cocoa Vice President, said: “As the report suggests, research shows that women are more likely to spend additional income they control on things that ultimately help the community, including food, healthcare, and education of their children. Furthermore, there is evidence that empowering women will lead to greater  productivity, improved quality of life and a more secure future supply chain."

Mars Chocolate said it would develop a full gender outreach plan by April 2014, which is expected to incorporate the report’s recommendations into Mars’ Vision for Change program.

The company last year responded to Oxfam’s calls by signing the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles in April 2013.

Nestlé and Mondelez conducting similar audits

Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign also encouraged Nestlé and Mondelez to improve their records of gender equality on cocoa farms.

Nestlé has called in the Fair Labor Association to conduct an assessment of women on cocoa farms based on the October 2013 to March 2014 cocoa harvest. Its report is due between April and May this year.

Mondelez plans to publish its first report on female cocoa farmers in Ghana on 1 April 2014 with  action plans due for the firm’s top four cocoa origins by 2018.

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