Sustainable cocoa & sugar

Cocoa and sugar are vital ingredients for many of our brands. We're working with partners to source 100% sustainable cocoa and sugar so that we can ensure our supply chain is resilient and we can meet consumer demand.

Cocoa farmer with basket, Ghana

Global commodities need a collective approach

Cocoa and sugar are global commodities with complex supply chains. Cultivating them provides livelihoods for millions of people, but is also associated with issues such as deforestation, water impacts and human rights risks – issues we want to play our part in eliminating.

We’re committed to sourcing 100% of our cocoa and sugar sustainably by 2020, as they’re priority crops for our business. That will help secure our future supply of vital ingredients and improve transparency in our supply chains.

And we’re looking beyond 2020, at the ways in which we can make our sourcing practices go further in tackling the specific issues that are found in these supply chains.

Certification & beyond

We buy only a small proportion of the global production of cocoa and sugar. That means that we cannot change these supply chains just by acting on our own. Partnerships and collaborations are an essential part of our approach.

In particular, we work with suppliers through long-standing certification schemes. These have helped drive standards across these sectors, and are a powerful tool when it comes to monitoring sustainable agricultural practices.

We've made significant progress through certification, particularly on cocoa, which we mainly use in our ice cream brands such as Magnum, Wall’s and Ben & Jerry’s.

Ben & Jerry’s worked with suppliers to achieve Fairtrade Certification for all its cocoa by 2014. By 2019, over 99% of the cocoa we needed for Magnum was from Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM farms, and 89% of our cocoa overall was sustainably sourced. See Targets & performance

Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard

The Rainforest Alliance works to conserve biodiversity and improve smallholder farm practices by promoting and evaluating the implementation of the Sustainable Agriculture Standard. The Standard promotes ecosystem conservation, worker rights (including the prohibition of child labour), safety and wildlife protection. It also covers topics such as water and soil conservation, agrochemical reduction, decent housing, legal wages and contracts for workers.

Focus on cocoa: our 2025 strategy

We buy around 1.5% of the global production of cocoa, mainly sourced from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

We're determined to source 100% of our cocoa sustainably – but we've set ourselves the goal of going further, through impact programmes that complement the work of certification programmes and bring us closer to the people who grow our ingredients.

By 2025, we aim to have reached at least a third of the cocoa farmers in our direct sourcing with tailored impact programmes that:

  • lift cocoa farmers out of poverty
  • eliminate child labour
  • halt deforestation, and champion forest protection and conservation.

Lifting cocoa farmers out of poverty

Green farmer icon

Farmers depend on cocoa for their livelihoods

Cocoa supports the livelihoods of an estimated 5.5 million farmers. For many cocoa farmers, lack of access to training and other services results in poor yields, which in turn can lead to farmers switching crops or leaving farming and moving to urban centres in search of better jobs.

Our business success depends on procuring the ingredients these farmers produce – so we have a long-term interest in ensuring that sustainable cocoa farming supports farmers and their communities.

Preparation for certification can play an important role in capacity-building for cocoa farmers – but we also deliver impact programmes that specifically aim to lift farmers out of poverty. We help farmers with tailored farm business plans and access to finance and training, and have a target of reaching 6,000 farmers with income diversification training and opportunities by 2025. We have already piloted a number of programmes that explore alternative crops and new income streams in Côte d'Ivoire.


Cocoa farmers

Strengthening cocoa smallholders in Côte d'Ivoire

We work with smallholders to help them build their resilience to market shocks and fluctuations by helping them sustainably increase their yields and find additional sources of income.

Our pilot project DiRev (Projet de Diversification du Revenu du Planteur) worked with 448 smallholder cocoa farmers in southern Côte d'Ivoire from 2018 to 2019, using a range of approaches to help them grow maize as well as cocoa. It aimed to make smallholders more resilient by diversifying their household incomes, and had a particular focus on including women farmers.

Despite severe droughts during the project, yields of maize on DiRev fields were higher than on 'control' fields – and 79% of the farmers reported that they were positive about their maize harvest.

We describe this and other projects in more detail in connecting with smallholder farmers to enhance livelihoods.

This project supports the following Sustainable Development Goal

  • No Poverty)

A holistic approach to supporting smallholders

Building resilience among smallholder farmers extends beyond supporting improvements in their agricultural practices. As we describe in Inclusive business, a holistic approach that aims to address the wider challenges they face is essential – and will play a crucial part in securing our supplies for the future.

For example in 2017, we developed an innovative pilot programme called ASPEN to provide farmers in cocoa communities in West Africa with an additional source of income by acting as sales agents for Unilever (and other) products. It was a partnership between one of our suppliers and TRANSFORM (a joint initiative between Unilever and the UK government’s Department for International Development), and was implemented by NGO TechnoServe.


SS Cocoa Spotlight Aspen

ASPEN: a unique partnership that supports cocoa-farmers’ incomes

Finding additional sources of income can be an important way for smallholder farmers to build their resilience. In Côte d'Ivoire, the ASPEN project explored how farmers can diversify their incomes by acting as sales agents for products like soap, detergent and toothpaste in their local community. The project also aimed to help develop what we call ‘last-mile’ distribution networks – getting products to consumers in communities that can be hard to reach.

In 2018, 56 sales agents and helpers were trained and offered business coaching to support them in setting up new small business ventures through ASPEN. Around 40% of the participants were women farmers.

More information on our last-mile distribution networks, and our work with smallholder farmers, is in Inclusive business.

Eliminating child labour

As our Responsible Sourcing Policy (PDF | 9MB) makes clear, we seek to eliminate child labour from all our supply chains.

We know that child labour exists within the cocoa sector, so we’re developing impact programmes with our partners, certifiers and suppliers to ensure that we source from cocoa co-operatives that have monitoring and remediation systems in place that assess and address child labour cases. By 2023, all the co-operatives we directly source from will have such a system in place.

Women's economic empowerment is critical for child labour prevention, so we aim to reach 2,000 women in cocoa households through training and income diversification opportunities to support this work. We are also committed to increasing the number of village savings and loans associations in the communities we source from, since we believe that they are critical in tackling child labour and helping lift cocoa households out of poverty.

Action through the Cocoa & Forests Initiative

Protecting forests is also an important part of our cocoa strategy – and in 2018, we became signatories of the Cocoa & Forests Initiative (CFI).

As a signatory, we’re committed to a process that will ensure evidence-based decision-making and data sharing on forests, forest loss and degradation, and patterns of land use in cocoa-growing communities.

This work, as well as our social impact ambitions, is supported by having a traceable, transparent supply chain. In March 2020, we published the direct sourcing Unilever Tier 1 and Tier 2 Cocoa Suppliers List (PDF | 120KB).

The Cocoa & Forests Initiative (CFI)

The CFI is jointly led by the World Cocoa Foundation, the International Sustainability Unit (ISU) of HRH The Prince of Wales, and IDH – the Sustainable Trade Initiative.

Thirty-five companies have signed the Statement of Intent to collaborate pre-competitively to help end deforestation and forest degradation in the cocoa supply chain, beginning in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

To put our commitments into practice, we have already mapped over 85% of our direct cocoa supply chain, together with our suppliers, to improve traceability and better understand where our cocoa comes from. This mapping will enable us to better define deforestation risk, and to identify issues on the ground that require remediation.

We are working with the other signatories of the CFI on the right approach to remediation of environmental and social issues on the ground. We’ve signed the CFI’s Frameworks for Action for Côte d’Ivoire. By doing so, we defined our core commitments and action plan for a deforestation-free supply chain. These commitments were drafted based on our role in the supply chain, our cocoa sustainability goals and our corporate strategic priorities. Our progress is set out in the CFI Annual Progress Report (PDF | 268KB).

Towards a sustainable global sugar supply

We’re working towards sourcing all our sugar from sustainable sources. Although we still have more to do, we’ve increased our supply from sustainable sources, including through our work with suppliers and farmers to help them meet our Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC) and equivalent standards; see Targets & performance for details.

We buy sugar beet and sugar cane from a number of countries spanning Asia, the Americas, Europe and Africa, each of which can have very different supply chains and challenges. For example, in 2018, along with other members of SAI Platform, we joined the Sugar Beet Russia (SUBERU) Project. SUBERU brings together suppliers and buyers to explore sustainable sugar beet production in Russia, which is the largest producer of sugar beet in the world. We expect to see sustainable Russian sugar beet come into our supply chain in 2020.

While we’re proud of the progress we’ve made, in the longer term, our aim is to help create a global supply of sustainable sugar. We believe the best way to achieve this is to harmonise the sustainable sourcing codes of the food and drink industries and forge them into a single standard, which can have an impact at scale.

That’s why we have helped develop the Farm Sustainability Assessment through the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform, which has been agreed by many businesses in the food and beverage industries and gives farmers a single, simplified sustainability framework to work to. 

Bonsucro – making sugar supplies more transparent

We support the Bonsucro standard, which aims to improve standards of production in the cane sugar industry, including by increasing the proportion of physically certified sugar from sugar cane. We continue to buy Bonsucro credits while working with Bonsucro and others in the Americas and Asia to apply a combined approach of credits and certifying supply chains.