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 both global commodities that often have complex supply chains: cultivating them provides livelihoods to millions of people but is also associated with issues such as deforestation, water use and human rights risks.

We buy only a small proportion of global production of either commodity, which means we can best create the changes we want to see through partnership and collaboration with others. Longstanding certification schemes for both ingredients enable buyers like us to work with suppliers within existing sustainability frameworks – but we also recognise the need to strengthen certification and improve traceability.

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, which builds trust among consumers and others. Through partnerships with our suppliers, we’re also aiming to improve farmers’ agricultural practices and enhance their livelihoods.

Building capacity in cocoa

We buy around 1% of the global production of cocoa, mainly sourced from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. We use the majority of this 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 2018, around 98% of the cocoa we need for Magnum was from Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM farms and 82% of our cocoa overall was sustainably sourced. See Targets & performance for details of our progress.

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.

Mapping our cocoa supply chain

In 2018, we became signatories of the Cocoa & Forests Initiative.

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.

Besides Unilever, 36 other 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.

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. To put these commitments into practice, we’ve started mapping 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 see an urgent need for accurate mapping, classification and monitoring of cocoa farms and forest cover to identify which areas need full protection, and which areas should be reclassified to allow continued and sustainable cocoa production. So far, we’ve mapped over 15,000 cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire.

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 have signed the CFI’s Frameworks for Action for Côte d’Ivoire. By doing so, we defined our core commitments and actions (PDF | 285KB) for a deforestation-free and forest positive supply chain. This Action Plan (PDF | 164KB) was drafted based on our role in the supply chain, our cocoa sustainability goals and our corporate strategic priorities.

Our prosperity is linked with smallholders' livelihoods

Green farmer icon

Farmers depend on cocoa for their livelihoods

Working together with our suppliers and certification organisations is critical to our ambition of sourcing our cocoa sustainably – and can also support our wider ambitions to enhance the livelihoods of the smallholder farmers in our supply chains.

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. This is particularly acute in the next generation of cocoa farmers who often do not see cocoa as a viable livelihood.

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. We work with key cocoa suppliers to drive livelihood programmes directly with smallholder cocoa farmers, while preparation for certification can also play an important role in capacity-building in agricultural supply chains.


Lady in Africa

Ben & Jerry’s & Fairtrade: getting closer to our farmers

“Sometimes the cocoa tree does not produce. Now, with Fairtrade, we are receiving fertilisers (to spray on our farms) from the co-operative. At the beginning I could only produce half a bag. Now I can produce seven (bags).”

So says Alphonsine N'Guetia, a cocoa farmer in Côte d’Ivoire. She’s the Secretary of the Women’s Association of COOPAZA, one of three farmers’ co-operatives taking part in our initiative with Fairtrade designed to bring us closer to the people who grow our cocoa.

The Ben & Jerry’s partnership with Fairtrade aims to address many of the barriers cocoa farmers like Alphonsine can face – such as low incomes, seasonable food insecurity, low productivity and vulnerability to climate change.

The partnership is designed to make our supply chain more resilient and transparent. It seeks to improve farmers’ household incomes and strengthen the independence of co-operatives while supporting sustainable agricultural practices. Our aim is to reach more than 3,600 co-operative members overall, working with 1,800 farmers on productivity improvement and protection against extreme poverty. We call this approach ‘linked prosperity’ because better livelihoods for farmers and stronger environmental standards mean shoppers can trust that the ice cream they buy is made from sustainably sourced cocoa.

Ben & Jerry’s has a close relationship with three cocoa-growing co-operatives in Côte d’Ivoire, whose farmers have access to all the benefits of Fairtrade, including the Fairtrade Minimum Price for their crop, extra financial support from the premium paid for the Fairtrade cocoa, and additional training and support for strengthening the co-operative and capacity-building.

Photo Fairtrade Foundation/Simon Rawles

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’s a partnership between one of our suppliers and TRANSFORM (a joint initiative between Unilever and the UK government’s Department for International Development). The initiative reaches 56 smallholders and is being 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 is exploring 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 helps us 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.

Towards a sustainable global sugar supply

We’re working towards sourcing all our sugar from sustainable sources. 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. While 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.

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 beverages 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.

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