The Chocolate Axe

Deforestation trade due diligence

The Theobroma Cacao may not be well-known under its scientific name, but is bearer of one of the most loved agricultural commodities in this world. The sweet goods from the Theobroma Cacao, called chocolate, do not only bring joy (thanks to chocolate’s vitamin D stimulating serotonins, one of the “happy hormones”), but also casts a dark shadow on the world.

The production of cocoa products contributes significantly to global deforestation. Together with coffee, soy, palm oil, timber, rubber and cattle, the cocoa sector is responsible for 58% of all agriculture-related deforestation. Between 2001 and 2015 cocoa was responsible for a staggering deforestation of 2 million hectares . Cocoa accounts for the highest degree of deforestation in West Africa. Compared to the other 6 agricultural commodities, cocoa is the only sector where forest degradation is still increasing. Over the years, around 80% of Ghana’s and 94% of Côte d’Ivoire’s forests have been lost. A third of this loss can be traced back directly to cocoa.

These environmental risks have led to the introduction of the EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR). In its impact assessment the European Commission showed that all producing countries of cocoa would be labeled as high-risk for deforestation. Were the EU not to act, the problem of deforestation and forest degradation related to EU consumption would persist and further deteriorate.

Wonder awaits?

Unfortunately, the problems in the cocoa sector extend beyond environmental concerns. In in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana - which produce 60% of the world’s cocoa - nearly all of the 2 million cocoa farmers live below the poverty line, earning less than two dollars a day. The situation of the women farmers is even more dire. They earn less than 26 eurocents a day. Children are also at increased risk of exploitation in the cocoa sector. In Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, it is estimated that more than 1,5 million children work under illegal conditions. In total, around 30.000 men, women and children suffer from modern slavery and exploitation. Isn’t chocolate supposed to generate joy?

The Gordian knot of poverty, environment and climate

The low cocoa price on the international pushes many small-holders to increase their production through deforestation. If a family is not able to ensure an adequate standard of living , it is understandable their immediate priority is not the preservation of forest and the fight against climate change. Still, deforestation is one of the biggest catalysts for climate change which also has a disastrous impact on smallholders and producing countries. Year after year, climate change causes crops to fail, leading to higher poverty rates and extra deforestation to increase yields, creating a vicious cycle of human and environmental rights abuse. In a (hotly debated) report it was concluded that ‘for more than 50% of the cocoa farmers involved, the household income would need to double in order for them to earn a living income.’

How Companies, Consumers and Governments can and should prevent harms in the cocoa sector.

The responsibility for addressing these issues should not rest solely on farmers. Systemic change must come from companies, governments and consumers. Besides deforestation, the European Union aims to tackle the cases of human exploitation in the cocoa sector through Forced Labour Regulation (FLR). Linked to the overarching Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CS3D), which compels corporations to take responsibility for their value chains in terms of human rights, environmental exploitation and climate change, both the EUDR and FLR will have a lasting positive impact on European supply chains.

Establishing a 100% traceable value chain allows companies to identify and address violations of human and environmental rights. This makes it possible to monitor, prevent, mitigate, remediate, and eventually eliminate instances of deforestation, forced labour, human exploitation, and other violations. More transparency by companies also enables consumers to make better informed choices.

In addition to traceability, there is a straightforward solution at hand for companies: make sure to pay farmers at least a living income. Utopian? Several companies are showing this can be done and have been leading by example. Providing farmers with living income would lift them out of poverty , eliminate the need for expanding land through deforestation, and contribute to combating climate change in a cost-efficient manner . Paying a fair price for fair work is the one condition to achieve a truly sector that is sustainable for the people and the planet.

Feel free to contact us to know more about these EU policies and their implementation: contact form.


  • The EUDR will start applying to operators and traders on December 30, 2024.
  • An informal agreement was reached on the CS3D in December 2023. The Directive is expected to come into force in 2024.
  • The FLR is under negotiation in the Council at the time of writing. Once the Council reaches its joint position (General Approach), the trilogue negotiations with the European Parliament can start.



_Photo by Rodrigo Flores on Unsplash_

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