The Hershey Company recently announced that 100 percent of its global cocoa supply would be certified by 2020. Sound kind of vague? It is. Despite lingering questions about who will do the certifying, environmental and human rights advocates are celebrating the announcement as a victory.
For the past few years, the iconic chocolate brand has faced criticism from activists who said it was the only major chocolate producer in the world that hadn’t made a commitment to use certified cocoa. That may not be exactly accurate, as less than five percent of the world’s cocoa supply is from certified sources, but as a major brand, the pressure seems to have worked on Hershey.
According to a company statement, Hershey’s will seek to achieve 100 percent certified cocoa for its global chocolate product lines within the next eight years, and will accelerate its programs to help eliminate child labor in the cocoa regions of West Africa.
There are currently several third-party certifications available for cocoa, all of which claim to guarantee that cocoa is produced according to certain elevated social, economic and environmental standards. The Rainforest Alliance operates what is arguably the most well-known of these certification programs. RA advocates that cocoa, like coffee, be cultivated under the shade of native canopy trees and maintain a landscape similar to natural forest. Several Hershey chocolate brands already boast RA certification, and it is expected that this will be the certification program chosen for the entire company moving forward.
As the largest chocolate manufacturer in North America, Hershey believes its 2020 purchasing commitment should significantly expand the global supply of certified cocoa, particularly from West Africa, which produces about 70 percent of the world’s cocoa.
“Consistent with Hershey’s values, we are directly addressing the economic and social issues that impact West Africa’s two million cocoa farmers and families,” said J.P. Bilbrey, president and chief executive officer, The Hershey Company. “Expanding the use of certified cocoa across our iconic chocolate brands while working with public and private partners, demonstrates Hershey’s responsible sourcing practices. I am confident that we can make a substantial difference in West Africa by 2020.”
For now, the company will only say that independent auditors will verify the certified cocoa was produced by the highest labor, environmental and farming practices.
No doubt Hershey’s hopes that the change will allow it to recapture some of the customers lost to competitors like Nestle and Mars who’ve already made large commitments to increase use of certified cocoa. Earlier this year, Hershey’s announced that its Bliss chocolates will be Rainforest Alliance certified and available to consumers by year end. Hershey’s Dagoba organic chocolate is currently 100 percent Rainforest Alliance certified.
Hershey also said that its Scharffen Berger brand will source 100 percent certified cocoa by the end of 2013. Interestingly, just one day after the company announced its plans, The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) announced that Whole Foods Market stores around the country will drop Scharffen Berger chocolates, citing concerns that children are being employed in Hershey’s supply chain. Whole Foods plans to remove the chocolates from its shelves by the end of the year.
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