Can Belgian chocolate become completely sustainable?

Beyond Chocolate aims to put an end to the extreme poverty, child labour and deforestation that lies behind our chocolate. Today, 50% of Belgian chocolate is already certified.

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Chocolate displayed in shop window

© Shutterstock

In December 2018, the Belgian chocolate sector undertook to make all its chocolate sustainable. This initiative, known as "Beyond Chocolate", built further upon the "SDG Charter for International Development". In doing so, the Minister for Development Cooperation, Alexander De Croo, wanted to encourage Belgian companies to commit themselves to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

We Belgians are fond of chocolate and are fortunate to have a wealth of high-quality brands and varieties at our disposal. But we seldom think about how that product is made.

Extreme poverty and deforestation

Many cocoa farmers live in extreme poverty. They often have no choice but to put their children to work. Poverty also often drives them to reclaim new land. This is why they cut down valuable forests.

In the Ivory Coast and Ghana, for example, 3 million hectares of forest disappeared over a period of 10 years. A quarter of this can be attributed to the planting of cocoa trees. Both countries supply 68% of Belgian cocoa beans.

Cocoa farmers harvest cocoa beans

All cocoa farmers deserve at least a living income. © Shutterstock

Living income

Beyond Chocolate aims to put a stop to these distressing situations. The signatories undertake that all chocolate produced and sold in Belgium will be certified by 2025. This can be done through certification bodies such as Fairtrade Belgium and UTZ/Rainforest Alliance, or through the companies' own sustainability programmes. Think of Cacao-Trace by Puratos or Cocoa Horizons by Barry Callebaut.

By 2030, all cocoa-related deforestation must be stopped. In addition, the farmers who supply cocoa beans for Belgian chocolate – numbering more than 140,000 – must enjoy living income. And that goes beyond just making ends meet. It means that a family has not only a sufficient income to take care of its food, housing, healthcare, education, transport and other essentials, but also has sufficient reserves.

Paying a fair price for the cocoa beans is not enough. After all, a living income also depends on the amount of land that farmers have at their disposal, the income they obtain, the production costs, potential additional income, etc. All these things must also be taken into account.

50% certified

1.5 years after its launch, IDH (Sustainable Trade Initiative) – the organisation that manages Beyond Chocolate – took stock of the situation in its first annual report. And there is hope. 50% of the cocoa used for the production of industrial chocolate in Belgium is already certified.

For the income of the cocoa farmers and deforestation, the matter is somewhat more complicated. After all, many companies get their cocoa beans from all over the world. This makes it difficult to trace exactly which farmers are producing cocoa for Belgium. The same applies to deforestation and child labour. This is why IDH will be developing concrete objectives for each partner, along with the signatories, in the coming months.

Unique mix

In any case, the participants remain highly motivated. The unique concept helps with this. After all, Beyond Chocolate brings together a very diverse group of organisations who meet in working groups and projects and, above all, share the same commitment. In addition to chocolate companies (Galler, Mars, Belvas, etc.) and department stores (Carrefour, Lidl, Aldi, Delhaize, etc.), there are also NGOs (Rikolto, Trias, WWF, etc.), trade unions, social impact investors (Alterfin, Oikocredit, etc.), universities (Ghent University, VLIR-UOS, ARES, etc.), certification bodies (UTZ/Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade Belgium, etc.), the Port of Antwerp and the authorities via the Belgian Development Cooperation. Within Beyond Chocolate, this range of participants can exchange experiences about successes as well as failures, learning much from each other that way.

Pilot projects

With the financial support of the Belgian Development Cooperation, 7 projects were also selected through which additional experience can be gained. For example, Colruyt Group will coordinate a pilot project in the Ivory Coast in which 102 families will obtain a living income. Other projects focus on the professionalisation of cooperatives (Tony's Chocolonely), diversification (Barry Callebaut) and agroforestry (Cargill).

Beyond Chocolate has joined similar initiatives in the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. It also maintains close contact with the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) and the Alliance for a Living Income from Cocoa (ALICO).

In short, Beyond Chocolate has great scope to be able to achieve the imposed targets in 2030. ‘We will continue to work with just as much passion and enthusiasm,’ says Patrick Hautphenne, former Chairman of the Board of Directors, in his foreword. ‘Our national pride must also become a fully sustainable pride!’

The Belgian Development Cooperation is investing 2.5 million euros into Beyond Chocolate.