Chocolate companies offer “mixed-bag” on women’s rights

Published: 31st October 2014

Independent report finds company follow-through on commitments to gender inequality needs improvement

Leading chocolate companies Mars, Mondelez International and Nestle have made some progress on their 2013 promises to improve gender equality in their cocoa supply chains but significant gaps still remain, according to an independent evaluation published today. The companies had been pressed into promising these improvements by more than 100,000 actions by people supporting international development organization Oxfam’s campaign to reduce inequality facing women in the cocoa industry.

The report by gender rights expert Man-Kwun Chan, commissioned by Oxfam, shows that companies have taken initial steps to improve how they work with women cocoa farmers and workers, but none of the companies have adequately addressed numerous recommendations made by their own consultants for how to respect and protect women’s rights.

The expert report evaluates “Impact Assessments” commissioned by the three companies in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, and subsequent “Gender Action plans” describing how the companies intend to improve women’s rights in their supply chains in response to these assessments. In all three cases the companies were found to have credibly articulated their commitments to addressing the issue, but none has yet enacted adequate changes to their operations to fulfill these promises.

Equally encouraging and sobering

“The independent evaluation is equal parts encouraging and sobering,” said Monique van Zijl, campaign manager for Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign. “Mars, Mondelez and Nestle have improved and deserve real credit for making gender equality a priority. But they still are not doing nearly enough to change how they conduct business to make equality a reality. If chocolate companies want to retain consumer trust and show that their commitments are real, they will work to close the gaps in their current action plans and impact assessments. True accountability means taking feedback seriously and responding with a stronger approach.

“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.”

The report scores the Impact Assessments and Action Plans on a scale of 1-10 using uniform criteria.  Mondelez received the highest marks for its Action Plans (5.8/10), while Nestle’s Impacts Assessment was rated strongest (6.5/10). Mars showed the least progress overall, particularly in its Action Plan (2.8/10).

Pushing for accountability

Oxfam commissioned the independent assessment in an effort to create mutual accountability and to ensure greater transparency for how the food and beverage industry fulfills their sustainability promises. All three companies and Oxfam were given an opportunity to comment and give feedback on the report before it was published.

Oxfam supports the report’s recommendations for how the three companies can strengthen their efforts and has offered specific suggestions for each company. Oxfam believes that the companies should publicly commit to the following steps to be considered compliant with their 2013 commitments:

1. All three companies should:

  • Commission supplementary research on impacts faced by female waged workers and unpaid female family workers in Côte d’Ivoire (all three) and Ghana (just Mondelez).
  • Provide specific and actionable solutions to the constraints that prevent women from becoming direct cocoa suppliers in their supply chain.
  • Publically clarify how and when they will publish and implement impact assessments and action plans in the next sourcing country (e.g. the second largest sourcing country for the company or a sourcing country where the feasibility for the company to implement the activities is favorable).

2. Mars should commission supplementary field research within their cocoa supply chain in Côte d’Ivoire, not just limited to communities already implementing the company’s “Vision for Change” program. This research should collect quantitative data on gender inequalities experienced by women cocoa famers, which includes: gender differences in access to production inputs and training, leadership opportunities, land tenure access, and discriminatory employment practices. In order to have a rigorous gender assessment and Action Plan, Mars should consult with a wide range of relevant stakeholders throughout the data collection process. Based on this new information, Mars should compile and publish a revised Action Plan for Côte d’Ivoire that addresses those issues and also responds to all of the recommendations made in the original gender assessment.

3. Mondelez should use supplementary research on female waged worker and unpaid family workers to design two new activities within their Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana Action Plans. Mondelez should demonstrate what specific activities they are implementing to address women’s lack of participation as direct suppliers and as members of cocoa producer groups, including women’s lack or limited access to land rights and cocoa trees. In Ghana specifically, Mondelez should demonstrate a commitment to increase women’s membership of cocoa producer groups and their participation in group governance.

4. Nestle should expand the ambition of their Action Plan to include other interventions besides training to reach more cocoa producing communities. In the Action Plan Nestle should include specific activities that address issues faced by female waged workers on cocoa farms and in cocoa cooperatives. Nestle should demonstrate how they are gathering feedback on their Action Plan from women and male cocoa farmers, relevant female and male community leaders, government officials and other national and international women’s rights organizations.

“Respecting rights and improving opportunity for women in the cocoa industry is not only the right thing to do, it is essential to preserving a sustainable, affordable and high-quality supply of chocolate,” said van Zijl. “Consumers want to know that they can trust and believe the promises companies make. We look forward to working with the three chocolate giants to help verify that, in this case, they can.”

Respecting rights and improving opportunity for women in the cocoa industry is not only the right thing to do, it is essential to preserving a sustainable, affordable and high-quality supply of chocolate.
Monique van Zijl
Campaign Manager for Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign

Notes to editors

View the report, and Oxfam’s position statement on its findings at:

Details on the 2013 women’s equality commitments are available at:

Contact information

Ben Grossman-Cohen; tel: +1 (202) 777 2907;

For updates, please follow @Oxfam.