Cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast

Fairtrade draws attention to the gender pay gap in chocolate

Fairtrade’s campaign is shining a light on the exploitation experienced by women farmers. It calls on companies to pay living incomes to cocoa farmers by 2030 to meet the UN’s Global Goals to end poverty.

  • New Fairtrade research reveals a large group of women are being left behind by the chocolate industry 
  • Data shows women could be struggling on just 23p a day, well below the extreme poverty line of £1.40 
  • After a hard day’s work these women still have to do most of the domestic chores – combining this with the farm work, this means women work 30% more than men* 
  • 75% don’t own their land, which means they miss out on help to escape poverty 
  • We call on the UK Government and chocolate companies to join the Alliance on Living Incomes in Cocoa, a new international initiative 

The sweet delight of chocolate hides the fact that the production of cocoa too often relies on gender inequality, injustice and exploitation, according to a new report launching Fairtrade Fortnight (24 February – 8 March). 

To mark the second year of its She Deserves a Living Income campaign and to better understand who grows our cocoa, The Fairtrade Foundation commissioned new research into women farmers, who make up two thirds of the labour force. The report, ‘The Invisible Women Behind our Chocolate,’ highlights how large numbers of women farmers face an even worse situation than their male counterparts, especially those groups who are completely ‘invisible’ to market, research, and policy actors.  

The UK chocolate industry is worth at least £4 billion each year, and as a nation of chocolate lovers – consuming more per person than any other European country** – the UK should be leading efforts to ensure that all cocoa farmers, especially women, can earn a living income. Yet despite this, most cocoa farmers continue to live in abject poverty. Sixty percent of the world’s cocoa beans are grown in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana by approximately two million smallholder farmers – a typical cocoa farmer in those countries earns under 75p a day, well below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 (about £1.40) per day, meaning they are often unable to put food on the table or buy medicine if they fall sick. New figures reveal that women earn on average just 23p per day. 

Far from being a ‘male crop’ when men do all the ‘hard work’ as commonly depicted, women’s labour is crucial for cocoa production. Male farmers are able to intensify their cocoa farming, and expand and upgrade as farmers, because they rely on women (single or multiple wives, sisters, daughters, other younger women in their care) growing food crops and doing the household work, while also undertaking certain cocoa farming tasks. 

Louisa Cox, Director of Impact at the Fairtrade Foundation said: “It takes two to grow cocoa, it’s a partnership crop that needs both the man and the woman to successfully see it through to harvest. Yet often the woman does two thirds of the work for less than a third of the income, meaning a bitter taste to the sweet treat. 

“If the cocoa industry is serious about a long term sustainable future for their business then they must truly sweeten the deal and invest more in the women behind our chocolate.”  

Women do the lion’s share of the work in cocoa (68%), but they see little return – from weeding and preparing the land; planting cocoa seedlings; caring for young trees and intercropping of food crops; harvesting and plucking; pod breaking; fermenting and drying, and bagging the dried beans. In fact, there are few tasks which are mostly undertaken by men alone.  

It has been estimated that women spend on average 1.5 more time on domestic (unpaid work) than men (26 hours vs 10), while when considering household and farming and other non-farm tasks together, female working hours exceed those of men by nearly 30%. 

Despite their central role in cocoa production, women face much more constraints than men, both as female land owners, and female labour providers. 

Just 25% of women cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire own land. Even those who do own their land tend to have smaller, more remote and less productive farms. The size of their land makes them less able to achieve economies of scale. They face greater land tenure insecurity and tend to have less ability to mobilise (whether it be unpaid labour from other family members, or wage labourers). As a result, they face more restrictions in accessing inputs, extension services, training and credit, meaning lower returns from cocoa production. Women who do not have a partner to share the farm work need to hire more casual labour, increasing their costs. 

On cocoa farms owned by male partners, women will not usually have the ‘passbook’ documentation needed to participate in farming and community related decision making, through the participation in farmers’ organisations, or development programmes.  

Sharecropping is a very widespread practice in cocoa production, and the wives of farmers who are sharecroppers lack access and agency. Sharecroppers, usually migrant farmers from poor areas neighbouring the cocoa lands, give two thirds of each cocoa crop to the landowner as rent in exchange for labour they provide (spraying, weeding, harvesting). They are unable to access co-operative membership, agricultural extension services, inputs, training, financial credit and premium payments from certification schemes because they do not own the land on which they farm. 

It’s common for sharecroppers to be polygamous and have more than one wife or partner, and these women are seen as providing additional unpaid labour. Research suggests that as ‘junior’ wives they may have little choice or control and are particularly disempowered, turning them invisible. 

Louisa Cox concludes: With only ten years left, the ambitious goals and targets to end poverty, support small-scale farmers and decent work for all enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals will not be met unless urgent action is taken to support these invisible women. It’s high time we stood side by side with these invisible women and call time on the gender pay gap in chocolate.” 

The report outlines the positive developments towards achieving living incomes in cocoa this year, including the growing momentum for change in the chocolate world and Fairtrade’s interventions on the ground including Fairtrade’s West Africa Cocoa Programme and its Women’s School of Leadership which aims to empower women and increase women’s leadership in Fairtrade co-operatives. 

We call on the government to show leadership: 

  • Play a leadership role and join the Alliance on Living Incomes in Cocoa by the end of 2020 
  • Support Human Rights Due Diligence legislation in Cocoa 
  • Make sure that interventions on the ground reach women 

We call on the chocolate companies, traders and supermarkets to: 

  • Join the Alliance on Living Incomes in Cocoa 
  • Support Human Rights Due Diligence legislation in Cocoa 
  • Design and implement gender sensitive programmes to help enhance economic empowerment of women cocoa farmers 
  • Commit to sourcing cocoa on Fairtrade terms 
  • Commit to paying cocoa farmers a living income by 2030 

Rosine Bekoin, graduate of the Fairtrade Africa Women’s School of Leadership and Secretary of the Women’s Society, CAYAT, in Côte d’Ivoire. Leading the way, standing out and speaking up appears to come naturally to Rosine. But it’s not always been like this. As a graduate of the Women’s School of leadership, she trained for this. There, she picked up skills to share with other women in the co-operative to improve their situation. She believes firmly in the power of women to play a key role bringing communities out of poverty.“They (lots of women) don’t believe they can do it. If you ask them who is the head of the family, they say the man. Why can’t you be the head of the family, a woman? If you can save money, you can be the head of the family …Why are you walking behind? Put yourself in front, woman!” 

To read the full report, see: The Invisible Women Behind our Chocolate

For more interview, images and more information, please contact, Tel: 07886 301486 

* R.Vargas Hill and M. Vigneri, ‘Mainstreaming gender sensitivity in cash crop market supply chains’, ESA Working Paper No.11-08 (2011) 

**2017 data from Mintel Global New Products Database. C. Ritschel, ‘Chocolate Production And Consumption On The Rise Across The Globe, Says New Data’ The Independent, 27 March 2018