World Cocoa Conference: Fix cocoa production’s bitter aftertaste with regulation
May 14, 2018

Global chocolate companies have called for governments to look at “potential regulatory measures” to address deforestation and poverty in cocoa production, according to the Berlin Declaration agreed at the close of the World Cocoa Conference, 25 April 2018.   

Every two years, the Conference brings together companies, governments and civil society organisations working in cocoa. The Declaration acknowledges that voluntary measures in the cocoa sector “have not led to sufficient impact”, and recommends looking at “holistic approaches, including effective governance”.  

The Declaration is a welcome recognition of the problems linked to cocoa, and of the limitations of voluntary initiatives. The world’s – and especially the EU’s – fondness for cocoa is estimated to have caused the destruction of a Belgium-sized tract of forests. The effects have been particularly severe in West Africa, where most cocoa is produced: the Cocoa Barometer 2018, an NGO-produced study released at every World Cocoa Conference, found that cocoa has driven the destruction of over 90 per cent of West Africa’s original forests. Cocoa production is also plagued by rampant use of child labour, driven in large part by the extreme poverty in which most cocoa farmers live. Yet despite more than a decade of voluntary efforts by companies, child labour in the cocoa sector continues to rise, with more than 2 million children working in the sector in West Africa alone. A stronger approach is needed. 

The Berlin Declaration reflects the conclusions made in March by the European Commission Feasibility Study on EU action to combat deforestation; it said that the most effective way to tackle deforestation would be to pass a regulation requiring any products coming into the EU to be sustainable and respect human rights. During the World Cocoa Conference, US-based NGO Mighty Earth called for the EU to take the lead in regulating imports, noting that the EU is the world’s number one importer, manufacturer and consumer of cocoa.