Mars, Mondelez, Nestlé are leaving women farmers behind

An Oxfam investigation into four countries where Mars, Mondelez and Nestlé 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.

March 7, 2013

On International Women’s Day Oxfam urges chocolate companies to address gender inequality in their supply chains.

An investigation into four countries where Mars, Mondelez and Nestlé 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 agency Oxfam.

On International Women’s Day, Oxfam is urging the companies to address gender inequality in their supply chains.

 “These companies pitch their chocolate as pure pleasure but the stark reality for the women who produce and process cocoa is far from fair,” said Robert Fox, Oxfam Canada executive director. “When you strip away the shiny wrapper you see the yawning gap between the brands’ huge profits and the harsh conditions in which these women are living.”

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 Nestlé are doing very little to address poor conditions faced by the women who grow cocoa.

Malnutrition rampant in cocoa-producing areas

“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 Nestlé 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.”

Consumers will reward companies

Although the companies do not control or employ them directly, Oxfam is calling on Mars, Mondelez and Nestlé 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.

“Rooting out gender inequality is among the most important things companies can do 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.”

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For more information:

Juliet O'Neill
Oxfam Canada media relations
juliet.oneill@oxfam.ca
613-240-3047