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Last week I attended the World Cocoa Foundation’s (WCF) annual partnership meeting which this year focussed on transparency and standards and I was able to share M&S’ experiences. I am lucky enough to be involved in several industry collaborations and can see first-hand the progress that the WCF is making. Whilst not perfect, seeing huge competing companies working together to iron out challenging sustainability issues is encouraging. 

We want to contribute to the wider industry efforts which is why we were the first retailer to join both the World Cocoa Foundation and the International Cocoa Initiative.  We would like to see more retailers join these coalitions to add their voices to industry efforts and to help encourage more own label manufacturers to explore the route to sustainable cocoa.  Only when the whole industry works together will change happen. A point I made in my address to the meeting in Washington.  

What can a retailer bring to the table? While a single retailer like M&S is, on a world scale, ultimately a small purchaser of cocoa, we do have experience in working with different commodities and are able so share best practice across different supply chains. A good example is the learnings from the work with the Ethical Tea Partnership on Malawi 2020.  We can also show producers and producing countries that there is a market demand for sustainable cocoa and we can work with our suppliers to ensure that change happens, this is one of the reasons we were early signatories of the cocoa and forests initiative, we also have a wide range of experience in deforestation-free commodity work to share. 

At the meeting, I also spoke about the importance of having the right standards in your supply chain. Cocoa is an important raw material for M&S, integral to many of the delicious products we sell.  It’s crucial that we have access to the best quality raw materials at the right time and that we source them responsibly.  Our annual cocoa use is only around 9,000 tonnes out of a total world production of around 4.4 million tonnes, but we need to send the right signals down through our supply chain that there is a demand for sustainable cocoa and we are willing to ensure this is the case. 

As part of our eco and ethical programme Plan A, we have set a clear public commitment to source 100% of the cocoa we use from verified sustainable sources and we are proud to say that we have recently achieved this goal.  We’ve worked with over 100 of our suppliers who source chocolate to ensure they understand their supply chain and the challenges facing cocoa farmers and why we need to invest in sustainable cocoa for the future. We’ve carefully chosen schemes which we think will make a difference to farmers on the ground and we will be closely monitoring progress and impact over the next few years.  

Investing in standards is the first building block to a sustainable supply chain.  But standards alone will not solve the challenges in the cocoa supply chain. That’s why I spent a great deal of my time at the meeting talking about collaboration and capacity building. Industry collaborations through the World Cocoa Foundation and the International Cocoa Initiative should start to transform the landscape for cocoa farmers. And M&S is investing in capacity building initiatives including a research project with Solidaridad and a partnership with NGO Emerging Leaders. The work with Emerging Leaders has shown that it makes a real difference to farmers and therefore we are working with one of our key cocoa suppliers to further develop this in the Ivory Coast in 2018. 

It was great to see over 100 different organisations all wanting a better future for cocoa farmers at the conference. What’s missing to drive the agenda forward? More participation from other retailers and a stronger farmer voice. I look forward to this developing in the future.