Gender inequality not just social but structural and choc giants must realize this: Oxfam

By Annie Harrison-Dunn contact

- Last updated on GMT

 Mondelēz, Nestlé and Mars action on gender equality in cocoa ‘equal parts encouraging and sobering’, says Oxfam report one year on from Behind the Brands criticism
Mondelēz, Nestlé and Mars action on gender equality in cocoa ‘equal parts encouraging and sobering’, says Oxfam report one year on from Behind the Brands criticism

Related tags: Supply chain

Confectionery giants Mondelēz International, Nestlé and Mars must do far more to ensure women are not blocked from day-to-day commercial cocoa operations because of issues like land rights, according to a report commissioned by Oxfam.

The report​ looked at advancements made by the “big three”​ on action plans and impact assessments within their respective cocoa sustainability programs a year on from the NGO’s critical look at gender equality in their cocoa supply chains as part of its 2013 Behind the Brands report​. 

Oxfam, which also marked the chocolate firms out of ten for gender assessments (GAs) and action plans (APs), praised the firms for making gender equality a key priority however Ben Grossman-Cohen, senior press officer for Oxfam America, told ConfectioneryNews said: "Currently the industry is not adequately doing its part.” 

Mondelez received the highest mark for its action plans (5.8/10), while Nestlé’s impacts assessment was rated strongest (6.5/10). Mars showed the least progress overall, particularly in its action plan (2.8/10). 

score card

Grossman-Cohen said the key to gaining genuine traction on these issues would be to ensure business models recognized the challenges facing women.

“They should take steps to reduce barriers and constraints that currently prevent women from becoming direct cocoa suppliers in their supply chains. Right now companies primarily focus on addressing gender inequalities within the brands’ CSR​ [corporate social responsibility]​ programs or charitable activities, rather than making sure that day-to-day commercial operations have good gender impacts.”

He said that it was true that aspects of this issue were social and cultural, yet said this would be the case of women’s equality anywhere - in West Africa, England or America. 

“This also does not excuse companies from doing the things that are within their control."

Structure change needed for traction 

“These are not just social issues. Some of them are structural in the business model pursued by the industry and how companies engage with their suppliers and how suppliers engage with communities,”​ he added.

He said there was currently a disconnect here meaning core business activities may undermine or limit any positive gender impacts achieved by the CSR programs. 

A female cocoa producer may be given technical skills through training programs, but if co-operatives and companies continue to insist that all farmers they buy are registered land owners this would rule women out. Companies could change this by introducing clauses into supplier contracts requiring suppliers to increase women’s participation as direct cocoa suppliers by encouraging producer

photo credit UTZ woman_cocoa_farmer (2)
photo credit UTZ 

groups to introduce more women-friendly membership criteria. 

“For example companies can introduce a new membership model into co-operatives whereby wives who contribute cocoa labor can become co-operative members alongside their husbands.”

He said this had already been seen within the tea industry with the firm Finlays where membership eligibility of a new co-operative was based on control over the production on the land, not formal land titles, meaning women as well as men could join the co-operatives under their own name.

A collaborative effort 

ConfectioneryNews contacted all three companies for a response to the follow-up. Richard Buino, a spokesperson for Mondelēz International, said gender was a “key cross-cutting theme” ​of its Cocoa Life program and it welcomed the conclusions that gender action plans for Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire ‘stood out as being reasonably comprehensive and significantly stronger’. It said it would be reviewing the other findings with its non-profit implementing partners and external advisers to identify where it could strengthen these areas. 

Lydia Méziani, senior corporate spokesperson for Nestlé, said that while it was pleased to be ranked at the top of the survey, it recognised that improving food security worldwide required a lot more work by all stakeholders. “This requires a collaborative effort by civil society, government and business and we believe that the food industry has a vital role to play in accelerating such progress.

“We have looked closely at areas where the report has identified room for improvement such as gender issues and will continue to take firm steps in this direction.” 

Meanwhile, Mars said: "We recognize the importance of women, especially women farmers, in the cocoa supply chain. We are already actively working with women in a large number of communities in Côte d’Ivoire."

Monique van Zijl, campaign manager for Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign, said: “Given the recent proliferation of voluntary sustainability commitments by food and beverage companies and across the private sector, this is an important test case of the industry’s willingness and ability to hold itself accountable without legal or regulatory intervention.”

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