Research project
24 | monthsSUS_COC

Sustainability strategies in the cocoa-chocolate global value chain

Related toSpoke 01

Principal investigators
Valentina Maria Paola Raimondi

Other partecipantsStefanella Stranieri, Verónica León, Belinda Borrello (POLIMI)
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Task involved

Task 1.1.2.

Sustainable accountancy and accountability approaches for selected value chains with definition of tools, indicators, and data (primary and secondary) for measuring sustainability, short and long-distance value chains, and food environments (e.g., Life Cycle Assessment, CHG protocol, Risk-Benefit Assessment, Local Multiplier3, FAO-SAFA).

Project deliverables


Report on good practices related to sustainable accountability and communication approaches in quality value chains (M24)

Interaction with other spokes

State of the art

The cocoa-chocolate Global Value Chain (GVC) faces several environmental and social problems. Most smallholders earn about 1 USD per day, which is far below the extreme poverty threshold set by the World Bank, and too often their total household income is much lower than what they would need to live a decent life. Child labour is another major issue, with about 1.5 million children working on cocoa farms in West African countries. Among the environmental issues, deforestation is definitely the most serious, since, in the past 30 years, about 30% of forest land in West African countries was lost and destined to cocoa cultivation. Deforestation produces an enormous amount GHG emissions, and therefore it has a significant role in accelerating climate change. 

Companies along the cocoa-chocolate value chain have experienced three phases of addressing sustainability: the first one was led by industry initiatives, the second one was characterized by independent sustainability certifications and the third one has seen the growing adoption of own supply-chain programmes by large companies.

Operation plan

The aim of the study is to understand how the chocolate sector addresses sustainability issues at multiple stages in the supply chain, and which are the company characteristics shaping the pattern of sustainability practices and certifications adoption by companies, either by encouraging or by hindering it. In order to answer these research questions:

  • we will select a random sample of 300 companies operating along the cocoa-chocolate Global Value Chain (financial database Orbis), and carry out a content analysis of their websites and sustainability disclosures in order to collect data about their characteristics and their sustainability performance; 
  • we will create a list of environmental practices, social practices and sustainability certifications, and report which ones are applied by each company; and characterize similarities or differences among multiple supply chain stages;
  • we will create a Sustainability Index, counting the number of environmental and socio-economic practices adopted by each company, and a Sustainability by Certification Index, counting the certifications adopted.

Expected results

Based on the results of previous research, we expect the chocolate sector to adopt various sustainability practices and certifications in order to address environmental and social issues, but the commitments not to be consistent and adequate across the whole sector. According to GVC Theory, we expect the downstream, large companies and those operating on the global market to have a higher Sustainability Index and a higher Sustainability by Certifications Index than the others. Also, consistently with Stakeholder Theory, we hypothesize that stakeholders influence the sustainability strategies adoption by companies and that engagement with conscious customers is positively correlated with the companies’ sustainability efforts.