Is Cadbury really dropping Fairtrade?

Emma Pocock discusses Cadbury’s parent company’s transition from their Fairtrade certification to their own Cocoa Life fair trade programme.

Photo: Cadbury logo

Cadbury’s own fair trade scheme, Cocoa Life, is set to replace their Fairtrade certification in a move to put the in-house scheme at the centre of the brand’s trading policy.

The $400 million Cocoa Life programme (which launched in Ghana in 2008) hopes to secure a better future for 200,000 farmers, and 1 million community members in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Indonesia, the Dominican Republic, India and Brazil by 2022, offering five times more sustainable chocolate by 2019, according to Cadbury’s press release. This will replace their official Fairtrade certification with a partnership with the foundation, but will keep the Fairtrade logo on their products.

This has caused unrest in the food industry and amongst Fairtrade supporters, due to concerns that the Cocoa Life scheme isn’t as transparent as it needs to be (especially due to Mondelez’s record of corporate tax avoidance), amongst broader worries that this will cause other companies to drop their Fairtrade certifications.

Photo: Cocoa Life's focus areas
Photo: Cocoa Life’s focus areas

Whereas Fairtrade certified chocolate promises farmers at least £1,600 per tonne of cocoa, the Cocoa Life programme does not provide figures as to how much farmers will be receiving, only promising that ‘Mondelēz International will invest $400 million over ten years to 2022’. However, the Cocoa Life programme, has supported 795 cocoa farming communities around the world, with farmers in Ghana seeing their incomes increase 49% more than farms outside the programme, and their cocoa yield grow by 37%.

Glenn Caton, northern Europe president at Mondelez, told the BBC that “sustainability is about much more to us than price”, meaning that the Cocoa Life scheme should represent a lot more than just giving farmers a share of profits:

“The next generation of farmers aren’t taking on cocoa farming like they used to because it is so unprofitable, so we have to make sure their communities thrive and this means investing more in their communities,” he said.

A focus on sustainability and equity is certainly needed, as cocoa farmers are often from communities of extreme poverty, despite the cocoa industry being worth billions. Fortin Bley, from Cote D’Ivoire told Huffington Post that despite his country being the leading exporter of cocoa, farmers earn 40p per day, and farmers are facing even higher risks due to climate change, with up to 75% of cocoa seedlings being lost.

Fortin’s comment that this inequality should “prey on our human conscience” represents the reality of global industry, and how it is the consumer’s responsibility to be mindful of the products we buy, and how this might be impacting the people on the other side of the commodity chain.

Katie Fishpool, a spokesperson from Fairtrade, said:

“We now have the opportunity to help shape an impact-focused programme across the whole Cadbury range. One which embeds Fairtrade’s values and principles of farmer empowerment, sustainable livelihoods and fairer terms of trade within Cocoa Life – which is itself rooted in community development – and now also Cadbury’s core business approach to trading. Cadbury is stepping up to the mark, but we’ll be there to lend our expertise, hold them to account and make sure farmers don’t just survive but increasingly are able to thrive.”

I spoke to FXU Environment and Ethics Officer, Sienna Somers, and she thinks it would be “false marketing and misleading to still label it as Fairtrade when in may not continue to be Fairtrade”

However, Sienna also suggested that this was a good opportunity to review Fairtrade’s policies, and the type of certification Cadburys are using. For example Fairtrade coffee beans have been found to have a negative impact on farmer’s profits, due to eligibility for higher market prices falling:

“Fairtrade can restrict farmers get the maximum amount for their bean. As the Nicaraguans have a rank scheme, if your coffee gets a high rank you can get more money. However, opting to be Fairtrade means you are not eligible for higher market prices”

Criticism of the Fairtrade system is growing, as most cocoa producers are from very small scale farms who can’t get the profits and yields of large farms, and are more vulnerable to risks of climate change, such as drought. Programmes which focus on a bottom-up approach need to be developed, and Sienna recommends looking at the World Fair Trade Organisation’s policies, which focus on tackling current challenges such as climate change, poverty in rural areas, consumer engagement and corporate responsibility.

Dr Steve Clark at the Institute of Economic Affairs also commented on this issue to the BBC:

“Fairtrade does bring benefits to some producers, but it will not be a way of transforming the world trade system as some people seem to see it,” he says.


“The only way to improve conditions for people working at bottom of the supply chain – those farming raw materials like cocoa – is by investing in the supply chain. Price floors might help but will only go so far.”

Mondelez’s sugar will continue to be certified by Fairtrade, however, it  is unclear as to exactly how different this is to Fairtrade, why the move was necessary, and if there are going to be any added benefits to the programme at this moment in time. This transition represents an opportunity for consumers to demand that Cocoa Life progress fair trade in the cocoa industry, and build upon the faults of other schemes. Whilst transparency is needed from Mondelez, this will mean nothing without the constant, watchful eye of engaged consumers. Find out more about Mondelez’s Cocoa Life scheme here, and read more from Cadburys here.