unilever says they're only a bit player in the cocoa war...

Submitted by sproutingforth on Wed, 2011-02-02 09:42

Some of you will remember the petition that went out from Avaaz in January, in which we sent the following message to big brands sourcing cocoa from Ivory Coast:

Ivory Coast is on the brink of a war that could cause unspeakable bloodshed. Please end your company's trade with Laurent Gbagbo and his forces and immediately and publicly commit to working only with President Alassane Ouattara's democratically elected government. Gbagbo relies on revenues and tariffs from cocoa exports to finance his repressive troops perpetuating his illegal grip on power. Millions of Ivorians risked their lives to vote last month. Your urgent action now could tip the balance towards democracy and save lives...

I received this response from Unilever in my inbox this morning - don't you just love corporate speak:

Hello from Unilever,

Thank you for contacting us to request that Unilever cease purchasing cocoa from the Ivory Coast.

While we fully understand your concern the situation is a complicated one. Taking this kind of action is not as straightforward as it may seem and may have a number of unintended consequences.

Unilever does not source cocoa beans directly from Ivory Coast. Indeed, we buy less than 1% of the global production of cocoa beans and are therefore a relatively small player in purchasing terms.

We do, however, buy some cocoa-based ingredients (e.g. cocoa powder, chocolate, etc) from large, third-party suppliers and it is impossible today to determine the origin of all the beans used in the ingredients we buy. This is because our suppliers source from many different countries and supply us based on how we want the ingredients to taste rather than where the beans come from.

In addition, a boycott of cocoa from Cote d'Ivoire would potentially have serious ramifications for large numbers of smallholder farmers who are dependent on it for their primary income for themselves and their families.

Cocoa production involves around 4 million small farmers globally, with a further 45 million people dependent on cocoa for their livelihoods. It is these farmers whom we are intent on helping. Under our Sustainable Living Plan (which we launched in November 2010), we are committed to sourcing 100% certified sustainable cocoa by 2020 to ensure that in the future our supply chains will be fully traceable.

This means we will be working with our suppliers and other partners to identify ways of engaging with smallholders to make sure that they can increase their output in an economic, socially and environmentally sustainable way.

Finally it is worth emphasising that Unilever does not support or endorse individual political parties. Our mission is to improve the lives of billions of people everywhere with products that address their needs for basic hygiene and good nutrition.

Yours sincerely,

External Affairs Department

Hmmm. You have to admire marketing departments. They are really good at deflecting responsibility. Does Unilever have a valid argument when they claim concern for little farmers? And what does this have to do with a potential war?

pic: www.allvoices.com

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