Ben & Jerry's Pays Cocoa Farmers a Living WageWith 75 flavors spanning from classic Vanilla and Chocolate Fudge Brownie to Phish Food and Chunky Monkey, Ben & Jerry’s operates in 38 countries. Yet, the ultra-popular brand name signifies more than a tasty frozen treat. For much of its history, Ben & Jerry’s has been an outspoken supporter of social justice movements.  Ben & Jerry’s most recent efforts to create a more equitable future prioritize providing a living wage to cocoa farmers in West Africa.

Cocoa Farming in West Africa

The vast majority of the world’s cocoa beans are grown in West Africa, and especially in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Côte d’Ivoire alone exports 30% of cocoa beans sold to such chocolate makers as Nestlé and Mars.  The global chocolate market is a large one. It generates huge profits for the mostly European manufacturers who create chocolate bars and other sweets. In addition, it is extremely profitable for the retailers who sell these products on their shelves.  In 2014, for instance, sales for chocolate confectionary added up to $100 billion.

The value chain is incredibly lopsided, though. Côte d’Ivoire exports more cocoa beans than anywhere else in the world. Around 25% of the country’s population relies upon income generated from cocoa.  Yet these cocoa farmers earn barely $1 per day, less than the $1.90 that marks the extreme poverty line. International sales for chocolate depend upon these farmers and their laborers, but they will see just over 5% of a chocolate bar’s final value.

Cocoa farmers have long faced the challenge of a volatile market since predicted demand and harvest yields can drive prices up or down. Tim Adams highlighted this problem in The Guardian after the price Côte d’Ivoire farmers received fell sharply in 2017. At the same time, Barry Callebaut, which ranks among the world’s biggest cocoa processors and chocolate manufacturers, earned 12% more the next year, with a profit of $288 million.

Improving the Supply Chain with Fairtrade

Fairtrade International is one organization working to change this disparity. Since its founding in 1994, Fairtrade has sought to give small producers a square deal by creating more transparency in the supply chain. Although the organization now works with farmers on multiple continents growing a wide variety of crops—including bananas, tealeaves, sugar cane and coffee beans—cocoa was one of its first targets. This has meant that buyers of any Fairtrade-certified chocolate bar can be sure that:

  1. The Fairtrade Minimum Price cocoa farmers receive is geared towards covering production costs, even when prices fall.
  2. Farmers also receive a Fairtrade Premium that they can use to pay for any project they wish. In the past, these have included buying new trees and improving storage facilities.
  3. Cocoa producers agree to provide good working conditions for their hired workers. Discrimination, forced labor and child labor are all banned.

Finally, Fairtrade is working to establish living incomes for small-scale farmers and agricultural workers, over and above nationally set minimum wages. According to Fairtrade, a living income should allow people to afford nutritious food, decent housing and other essential needs with a small amount set aside to pay for unexpected emergencies.

Ben & Jerry’s Commitment

Here is where the ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s is stepping up to help the cocoa farmers. The company is a longtime supporter of Fairtrade. Additionally, it has paid millions in Fairtrade Premiums to small-scale farmers growing key ingredients like cocoa. Now, however, Ben & Jerry’s has committed to paying higher prices so that 5,000 farmers in Côte d’Ivoire will earn $600,000 more per year. Divided equally, each farmer will receive about $120 in additional income.

While the price increase will not immediately fill the gap between minimum wages and a living income, Ben & Jerry’s Chief of Social Mission Dave Rapaport has hopes for the future. He told Forbes that Ben & Jerry’s work with Fairtrade is an integral part of a larger strategy—and not just in Côte d’Ivoire. “This is one further step on a longer-term journey that will continue for us,” he said, “[because] we are really committed to helping farmers in our supply chain obtain living incomes and we will be expanding those efforts to supply chains beyond cocoa.”

Angie Grigsby
Photo: Flickr