Mars, Mondelez, Nestle are leaving women farmers behind

By Ben Grossman-Cohen

An investigation into four countries where Mars, Mondelez and Nestle purchase cocoa has shown that many women farmers face discrimination, unequal pay and hunger, leaving the companies’ social policies exposed as weak and needing work, says international relief and development organization Oxfam America.

Oxfam campaigned today at company headquarters and retail locations on International Women’s Day to urge them to address gender inequality in their supply chains. The three companies control 40 percent of the chocolate market and purchase one third of all cocoa, which is mostly grown by small farmers in developing countries. Oxfam’s research shows that Mars, Mondelez and Nestle are doing very little to address poor conditions faced by the women who grow cocoa.

“The women who help produce the chocolate we all love to eat are getting left behind,” said Alison Woodhead, campaign manager for Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign. “Mars, Mondelez and Nestle have the power and responsibility to make a difference for these women. All three companies have said they will do more to make their products more sustainable, now is their chance to keep that promise.”

Oxfam’s investigation into cocoa supply chains in Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria and Ivory Coast revealed that:

  • Women cocoa growers are often paid less than men even though they are critical to the quality and productivity of cocoa.
  • Most people who work along the cocoa supply chain continue to live in poverty, and malnutrition in cocoa producing areas of the world is rampant.
  • Women working in cocoa fields and processing plants suffer substantial discrimination and inequality. For example, one worker in Indonesia told Oxfam she is made to work without a contract and is called “an animal” by her supervisor but has no way to complain. A worker at a cocoa processing factory in Indonesia told Oxfam that all female workers were fired after a few demanded equal treatment and pay.
  • While women increasingly occupy positions of power in food and beverage company headquarters, women working in company supply chains in developing countries continue to be denied similar advances in wealth, status or opportunity.
  • Women cocoa farmers have less access than men to land, credit, trainings and tools like fertilizers or irrigation systems.
  • Company sustainability programs have not adequately focused on addressing issues faced by women.

“All three companies have launched major projects to improve cocoa sustainability and have committed to increasing the amount of certified cocoa that they purchase,” said Woodhead.  “Companies deserve credit for this work. But these efforts are piecemeal at best and women are often an afterthought. For decades companies have put women first in their advertisements, it is time for them to do the same for the women who grow their ingredients.”

Although the companies do not control or employ them directly, Oxfam is calling on Mars, Mondelez and Nestle to lead an aggressive effort to support and protect the rights of the millions of women worldwide who grow the cocoa essential for their products.  Specifically Oxfam has called on the companies to:

1. “Know and show” how women are treated in their value chains by launching third party assessments and publishing the data.
2. Commit to adopt a “plan of action” to address the findings of these assessments that will increase opportunities for women growers and address inequality in pay and working conditions.
3. Engage with and influence other powerful public and private actors including governments and cocoa certifiers to address gender inequality.

Oxfam has given companies a long list of specific steps that can meet these goals including increasing trainings for women, promoting female recruitment and leadership of farming cooperatives and requiring suppliers provide a living wage to workers.

Senator Tom Harkin and Congressman Eliot Engel, authors of the Harkin-Engel protocol to address child labor in cocoa production, expressed support for Oxfam’s campaign.

“I have long believed that in order for the global economy to prosper, it is critical to protect the jobs and livelihoods of the most vulnerable populations both in our country and abroad.  That work has largely centered on eradicating exploitative child labor in cocoa production, but it includes protecting human rights along the entire supply chain,” said Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA).  “I applaud Oxfam for shining light on these inequalities in global cocoa production – inequalities that impact families abroad and markets around the globe.”

“I have worked to address significant labor issues in the production of cocoa and its derivative products in West Africa for many years,” said Congressman Eliot Engel.  “I know from first-hand experience that all parties – governments, industry, or private organizations – have to be fully engaged to bring an end to abusive labor practices. I have worked with the cocoa industry to address the issue of child labor, but more must be done on all fronts. We have a long road ahead that will require even greater commitment to human and labor rights issues.  Oxfam has done a great service bringing much needed attention to this significant issue.”

“Rooting out gender inequality is among the most important things companies can do to improve the quality and sustainability of their products,” said Woodhead. “Companies see farmers choosing other careers or crops and know how difficult it will be to meet the growing demand for cocoa if the situation does not improve. We are showing companies that consumers will reward them for doing the right thing, and will hold them accountable if they don’t.”


The full behind the brands scorecard is available at
Media briefing on gender and cocoa:
Video: The truth about women and chocolate:
Pictures from the Ivory Coast:!collection1974&k=6969f243a8
Pictures from Nigeria:

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