Overcoming Challenges Together

Opening address for the 2021 Partnership Meeting


(As prepared for delivery)

It is my great pleasure to welcome you all to the 2021 World Cocoa Foundation Partnership Meeting. I would like to start by thanking all those who have made this happen, including our Platinum sponsor Mars Wrigley, Gold sponsor Mondelēz International, and our many other sponsors. This is my first Partnership Meeting as the President of the World Cocoa Foundation and I look forward to robust and forthright solution-orientated discussions over the coming two days.

On my desk here in Washington DC I have two pictures. One of a cocoa farmer taken in 1959 and one of a cocoa farmer taken in 2021. They both show a farmer, machete in hand, no shoes on his feet and cocoa pods littering the ground.

The only difference between these two photographs is that one is in colour and the other is in black and white.

We may now be living in the world of this colour photograph but the farmer’s remains unchanged from that black and white era.

I would like to make three points for these two days:

Firstly, poverty is at the core of the problem. It is at the heart of child labour and deforestation.

Secondly, everything we discuss over these two days needs to focus on this core problem.

Finally, all participants in the supply chain need to burden share and compromise, including sharing traceability protocols and data.

Let me briefly speak to our three focus areas. Child labour

In this International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour we see the plight of families driven to engage children in dangerous farming activities. All forms of child labour remain unacceptable but we need to find solutions as to how this can be overcome and in tandem with gender inequalities.

That is why we are devoting time to ensure that we fully debate child labour. We need to define success, not by reiterating the problem nor regurgitating historical data  – nor the call for ever more research – often the domain of those who think data collection is the only benchmark by which progress and success can be measured.

All stakeholders in any cash crop supply chain should feel ownership on child labour issues. We are all responsible and no one can plead ignorance or abdicate responsibility. Just because child labour activities may fall outside your own perceived sphere of influence and control does not mean that you cannot add value and provide solutions for its eradication – and have shared accountability.

I look forward to the opening plenary today with Aarti Kapoor, Kim Frankovich, Pablo Perversi and farmer testimony, as well as to today’s breakout session on child labour severity. I hope these will truly be a catalyst for long lasting and sustainable change. Much has been achieved already with significant increases in school attendance and child protection systems in both Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire as well as significant gains in Indonesia and Ecuador. This progress must be applauded and should be expanded. But there are still far too many children engaged in supply chains for cocoa and other cash crops. We should also be candid and look at the root causes of why child labour has continued to plague this supply chain. At times we seem to put both the blame and the responsibility for providing a solution for the eradication of child labour solely on the shoulders of the farmers.

If only it were that simple and so easily assigned.

We have also devoted considerable time at this Partnership Meeting to the second core focus area of the World Cocoa Foundation.


Our flagship programme – the Cocoa & Forest Initiative – has been ground breaking in its top down approach of bringing seemingly distant and maybe even ideologically differentiated parties together to act in co-ordination to achieve, what by any measure, is a very promising partnership.

The accomplishment of the Cocoa & Forest Initiative has in no small part been due to the efforts of Prince Charles given that the real success here is not solely at the level of tree propagation, planting and capacity building but also that so many disparate stakeholders came together to put aside their differences to ensure that the project itself took centre stage rather than those who signed up to it. It is worth noting that Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana have taken a significant leadership role in driving this at the national level. In Columbia we are seeing excellent progress with the Cocoa, Forest & Peace initiative. Also the private sector has made significant commitments and has shown real ambition through multi stakeholder partnerships.

However, there is still much to do and we also all need to hold ourselves and others to account on additionality. Are we adding new money that would not ordinarily have been spent if these initiatives were not in place? I leave it to all stakeholders to answer that question in reflective honesty. And lastly as priorities change, issues come in and out of favour and bubble to the top of the agenda we cannot afford to fund certain new shiny actions in one section to the detriment of another.

This leads me to comment on two aspects that CFI amplifies with great clarity.

Partnerships – the very theme of this conference – ‘Overcoming Challenges Together’. Partnerships by their very nature mean compromise and equality.

Partnership means, that to achieve the bigger goal – to reach the objective of the alliance – private institutions, governments and individuals will have to leave their egos and their silos at the door. That the 20% of what we hold dear may well have to be sacrificed at the altar of compromise to attain the objective that we seek. Focus on the 80%.

The second aspect of CFI that I want to highlight is that of systemic reform. I remain disheartened by the continued overuse of the word ‘sustainability’ without any thought or regard of what mechanisms are required to be actioned to achieve this heady goal. I would advance the thought that we should think through three ‘S’s – Scale, Systemic Reform and then as an outcome – Sustainability.

The third theme is farmer poverty.

Poverty   Poisons   Everything.

We have not made enough progress over child labour, and indeed deforestation, because we are advocating solutions through siloed interventions. These may provide instant gratification. But in reality they are not robust enough to be indelibly stamped on a supply chain as they do not embrace holistic methodologies. We also often encourage smaller bespoke projects that may be impactful in the moment but will never be sustainable because they often address single institutional or development needs and fail to address the wider systemic ones.

This is a classic case of undertaking activity and re-labelling it as productivity.

Let me tell you about my reading of some recent research. I was positively struck and initially heartened to see the research headlined as:

“Poverty Drives Child Labor”.

I could not agree more.

But on reading the material on these two projects in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire I would have liked them to go further than to point out the need for strengthening capacity, additional monitoring, increased accountability and encourage pilots for cooperative cocoa traceability systems.

We are seemingly happy to enforce, monitor, make accountable, certify and trace to ensure that we eradicate child labour and deforestation – laudable but flawed as this does not address the root cause – which is poverty. These traceability protocols we impose virtuously on the farmer, are self-gratifying when it works and yet never seem to fully incentivise or fully reward the farmer for these undertakings.

Remember – you can change people’s behaviour by the way you compensate them.

We will never move to attaining so called sustainability if all we do is to impose strict traceability protocols on the farmer and then piously advise them on how to spend their hard-earned poverty.

So as we enter these two days of discussions and debate I would ask that we might consider the following.

After every session whether that be a break-out, a speech or a panel, please ask yourself just one question.

Can the solutions or thoughts, or call to actions, that have been advanced or advocated today in my session meaningfully improve the income of the farmer

And if you cannot answer that with a resounding yes – then we have a problem.

You cannot legislate for compassion, and I have to inform you that moral imperative and ‘because-we-should’ is so last century. We have to have a clearer roadmap of the ‘how’ over the ‘what’. Simply restating objectives and displaying principled indignation combined with righteous hand wringing won’t cut it if we truly desire a step change.

So I urge all participants to undertake a shared equity stake in the resolution to farmer income. That is a big call to action from me and will not be without compromise – nor will it be without some discomfort.

Not all farmers will make it in cash crop agriculture and cocoa is no exception to this. If we believe in free market economics that is part of the natural cycle and growing pain. But to achieve equity and better farmer compensation we have to encourage and strive for a healthy relationship between the supply side and the demand side of the equation. We will have to use the vital tool of supply chain management to develop long lasting and effective pricing structures. That believing that the only solution to improved farmer income is that the consumer will pay more is not realistic. It infers that, should the consumer not be willing to pay, that in turn means farmer poverty is therefore acceptable.

That in a world where we have a fluctuating relationship between supply and demand – we need to have the full compliance with, and acceptance of, a robust traceability protocol in addition to supply chain management. Bespoke traceability protocols rolled out by individual institutions is frankly not a long-term solution.

We have to embrace that as far as traceability is concerned one size must fit all stakeholders.

And we need a legislated level playing field that can be rolled out and be enforced by regulators both in origin countries and externally.

The single most important step change is the repositioning of ‘contribution’ over ‘attribution.’ We all need to play our part for the wider improvement of the system and not always believe that the actions that we take should only be attributed to an individual or institutional action.

Just imagine what we could achieve if we had one traceability protocol fully embraced by all stakeholders in the full supply chain that drove a meaningful and sustainable farm gate price differential between the price of traceable cocoa and non-traceable cocoa.

But this is a marathon and not a sprint. We will all need to identify what role we will be playing and sacrifices we are willing to embrace for the greater good. Where we all accept that the private sector has the right to make a profit and where governments have a right over the sovereignty of actions in their domestic markets. That land rights and rule of law provided by governments nurture an enabling environment that allows for the creation of jobs, which is the role and business of the private sector – not the role of government.

Of course, partnerships between the private sector and public sector are critical. But all stakeholders must put aside differences and focus on the 80% that unites their aims.

I am looking again at the photographs on my desk, one taken in 1959 and one in 2021. One in black and white. The other in colour.

When we talk about the real progress that we have made in the 60 odd years between those two photographs being taken, the only sustainability that I can put my finger on, is that we are still here talking about the difficult life of a cocoa farmer.

I look forward to a robust, frank, honest two days and beyond. We don’t just owe it to ourselves. More importantly, we owe it to the millions of farmers and their families growing cocoa.

Thank you for listening to me and I would now like to hand over to Amber Johnson, Global Vice President of Cocoa, at our Platinum sponsor Mars Wrigley.