Towards cocoa without deforestation

Frédéric Amiel is general coordinator of Friends of the Earth France. Last October, he published A short history of globalization for chocolate lovers, published by the Atelier.

After working for Mighty Earth, Greenpeace, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Etelle Higonnet is now a senior advisor to the National Wildlife Federation. She was named Chevalier of the National Order of Merit in France for her work protecting the environment, against deforestation in the cocoa, palm oil, rubber, soybean and beef industries.


This is good news for chocolate lovers, France has just launched a public-private platform in favor of sustainable cocoa. Commonly called Frisco (for French Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa), it aims to promote a cocoa zero deforestation », without recourse to child labor and is committed to improving the incomes of cocoa farmers. A charter, drawn up jointly by the French government, a handful ofNGO, certification bodies and most of French industry, now aims to ensure that only ethical cocoa that meets these criteria is imported into France by 2025. This initiative echoes the National Strategy for the Fight against imported deforestation (SNDI), adopted by the government in 2018 to end the import of products contributing to deforestation by 2030. However, is everything perfect in this charter and can we hope to soon taste pains au chocolat and ethical and eco-friendly Yule logs ?

Also read: Chocolate: the guide to buying ethically and ecologically

This French initiative offers some interesting perspectives. First, because of the composition of the signatories: France has succeeded in rallying almost all of the major cocoa traders, chocolatiers and small chocolatiers in the country. Obtaining such a complete spectrum of companies bodes well for a low risk of leaks », namely the maintenance of a thriving parallel market in which bad students would continue to undermine the efforts of the majority. This distinguishes Frisco, to some extent, from peer platforms such as the German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa (Gisco), Beyond Chocolate (usually referred to as Bisco) in Belgium, the Dutch Cocoa Initiative (Dutch Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa or Disco), the Swiss Platform for Sustainable Cocoa (Swissco) and Japanisco in Japan (officially named Japanese Platform for Sustainable Cocoa for Developing Countries).

Even French cocoa trader Sucden, notoriously winner of the rotten easter egg », awarded by theNGO Mighty Earth, in 2019 for its weak cocoa policy, signed ! It is even more interesting to note that several major French supermarket chains have joined [1] to this initiative aimed at removing chocolate from deforestation and child labor from the shelves by 2025. As the mass distribution sector is the country’s leading chocolate distributor and the biggest beneficiary of this market, its support is crucial. Other European approaches have not been able to obtain such a commitment from him.

Cocoa plantation in Cameroon. © Frederic Amiel

Secondly, we can be pleased that the Club of Committed Chocolatiers, which brings together a large number of artisan chocolate makers, took part in the negotiations and knew how to use its prestige to encourage the other players to go further in their social and environmental objectives. These committed craftsmen notably imposed that the platform set itself the objective of guaranteeing a living income for cocoa producers, and insisted on the need to integrate the agro-ecological approach under shade in this charter. Also called agroforestry, this technique consists of growing cocoa under the cover of other trees, so as to maintain ecological continuity in the landscape.

A late but ambitious initiative

Over the past four years, the chocolate industry has undertaken a growing number of reforms to address deforestation, child labor and low pay for producers in the sector. In cocoa producing countries, in Africa, Indonesia and South America, efforts have largely focused on the Cocoa and Forests Initiative, which brings together most of the governments and companies concerned to try to stop the destruction of forests, in particular through aid programs for the dissemination of sustainable agricultural practices.

In cocoa-consuming countries, especially the United States and Europe, efforts have focused on the ISCOs (Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa), platforms for reflection that have proliferated over the past five years to enable the industry to develop sustainable cocoa — a vital task given the industry’s history of poor social and environmental performance. However, despite grand declarations, they have found it difficult to translate commitment into action, and run the risk of remaining only a tactic of greenwashing for industry.

Sack of cocoa in Cameroon. © Frederic Amiel

Moreover, until recently, the various Iscos used differing definitions, performance indicators and reference dates, causing confusion in the world of sustainable cocoa, instead of leading to a global movement. The French initiative has therefore undertaken to align itself with four other Isco (German, Belgian, Dutch, Swiss), which recently signed a memorandum to work in synergy and ensure the harmonization of their commitments. Cocoa watchers are eagerly waiting to see if Frisco will actually help coordinate efforts with the other platforms to ensure greater success for these shifting prospects.

Unacceptable shortages

One element in particular remains to be improved: the use of pesticides in the cultivation of cocoa trees. Frisco members have so far refused to include a plan to reduce the amount of these harmful plant protection products. It is a major failure. They are dangerous for consumers and for the more than 1.5 million children who work in the cocoa sector, and are exposed to dangerous insecticides, fungicides and herbicides. Hundreds of thousands of them could therefore develop serious health problems in countries where, moreover, it is very difficult to have access to a good healthcare system.

In addition, this unreasonable use of pesticides makes traditional cocoa an essential contributor to the sixth mass extinction, when organic cocoa, grown without synthetic products, could help reverse the current trend by preserving biodiversity. This is an important point even from an economic point of view, since the productivity of cocoa plantations depends heavily on insect pollination, and poor management of pesticides can jeopardize it.

If the new Frisco has interesting prospects for improvement, a real margin for improvement remains to be filled in order to promote truly sustainable cocoa. In any case, it will be necessary to judge on the piece (in chocolate ?), knowing that real progress will depend on the capacity of this new alliance to guarantee concrete and rapid results in the coming year.

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