Women and the big business of chocolate

By Anna Kramer
Comfort Adeniyi, a cocoa farmer, on her farm in Ayetoro-Ijesa in southwest Nigeria. Adeniyi holds a long knife used by farmers for cracking open cocoa pods, weeding fields, and other routine tasks. Photo: George Osodi/Panos for Oxfam America

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About one in three workers worldwide rely on agriculture to earn a living. More than half of them are women, who are often overrepresented in the lowest-paid jobs. For both women and men, working on or owning a farm is no guarantee of a decent income: ironically, up to 80 percent of the world’s chronically hungry people are farmers.

So what can we do to right this wrong? We can start by understanding that food is truly global.

Farmers, companies, and consumers are all interconnected; each of our actions can affect countless others. Take cocoa, the key ingredient in your favorite chocolate bar. Many farmers in the developing world grow food for local markets, but an increasing number cultivate crops like cocoa to sell to multinational companies. Today, 90 percent of the world’s cocoa is grown by some 5.5 million smallholder farmers.

The not-so-sweet facts about cocoa

  • Most cocoa farmers and workers live below the poverty line, earning less than $2 a day.
  • Less than 5 percent of the price of a typical chocolate bar goes back to cocoa farmers. The rest goes to the supermarket that sells the candy, plus marketing, transport, storage, and other costs.
  • Many cocoa-growing areas have high rates of hunger and malnutrition.
  • While women are integral to the production of commodities like cocoa, tea, and coffee, it is usually men who sell the crops to traders and control the cash received as payment.
  • In West Africa, where most of the world’s cocoa comes from, women do nearly half of the labor on cocoa farms but own just a quarter of the land. They have fewer economic opportunities and, as workers, typically earn less than men. Cocoa farmers in Nigeria told Oxfam that women are paid $2 to $3 for a day’s work, while men earn about $7 a day.
  • Although global demand for chocolate is rising, the production of cocoa has slowed significantly owing to a changing climate and an aging workforce. Millions of young people are giving up cocoa farming because of low pay and a lack of opportunities.

Three things you need to know

1. The biggest food companies have global reach. Three companies—Mars, Mondelez, and Nestlé—collectively buy more than 30 percent of the world’s cocoa. They are among the 10 biggest food and beverage companies in the world, which generate revenues of more than $1.1 billion a day. Though these companies employ millions of people in poor countries, they often know very little about the people who grow, process, and sell their products.

2. These companies could be doing a lot more for farmers, especially women. Oxfam’s Behind the Brands scorecard found that the 10 biggest food and beverage companies need to do a lot more to support farmers, communities, and our planet. Many also have major gaps in their policies to protect and promote women’s rights. For example, Mars, Mondelez, and Nestlé all need to show more awareness of issues facing women cocoa growers and workers.

3. Consumers like you can change how companies do business. Today, consumers are looking closer at company practices and making more-informed choices. Even the biggest companies care what customers think—so when you speak, they listen.

Find the latest information on how chocolate companies score at www.behindthebrands.org.