Mars Chocolate is announcing that it will be implementing a set of actions in the short, medium and long-term that will help Mars Chocolate and the cocoa industry evaluate and strengthen their current programs to ensure that women are able to both fully contribute to and benefit from development programs in cocoa.
This plan of action builds on the leadership Mars Chocolate has demonstrated in empowering women. Mars recognizes that the most effective way to address socio-economic challenges in cocoa communities around the world is to work comprehensively and holistically. The Sustainable Cocoa Initiative Mars Chocolate launched in 2009 operates under the principle of putting farmers first. By helping farmers become more productive through better research, training, and a strong certification protocol, Mars Chocolate believes the company is also aiding them and their families improve their quality of life.
"Mars Chocolate knows firsthand how important women are to creating a better quality of life for the cocoa communities we work in," said Barry Parkin, Mars Global Chocolate procurement and sustainability head, in a prepared statement. "We've worked with women leaders in Soubre, as part of our Vision for Change program, and elsewhere. So it makes sense for us to be a part of an intentional approach to empowering women, to working with the industry to develop commitments to helping women, and to report on that progress. This is a critical part of achieving our goal of sustainability for cocoa."
Within the Vision for Change program, Mars Chocolate has been listening to the concerns of women and working with women leaders in their communities to help develop community development plans, according to the company. In addition to strengthening the voice and role of women in community leadership, Mars Chocolate is also working in a targeted way on the economic empowerment of women, which Mars believes will benefit women in cocoa communities specifically and farmers as a whole.
The company understands that women invest significantly greater proportions of their disposable income in family and community well-being. Mars Chocolate has learned that the economic empowerment of women is not only a tool for gender equity in its own right, but that it also has a powerful multiplier effect for the broader well-being of children, families and communities. Recently, Mars Chocolate funded six economic development projects within the Vision for Change program to train women in developing local enterprises in areas such as animal rearing and crop production, which benefits both the nutritional needs of families as well as the income of women who sell surplus production in local markets.
To achieve those goals of strengthening programs within the sector to empower women in cocoa communities, Mars Chocolate is committing to completing a comprehensive assessment of the condition of women cocoa farmers in its Vision for Change (V4C) program – which provides cocoa farmers with training in updated agricultural methods and is a key element in the company's Sustainable Cocoa Initiative - in Cote d'Ivoire by the end of this year. Mars Chocolate will also sign the UN Women's Empowerment Principles before May 1, 2013. By April 1, 2014, Mars Chocolate will develop and publish a plan of action based on the assessment to ensure the Vision for Change program adequately addresses gender equity.
Through 2014, Mars Chocolate will help develop the foundation for a sector-wide assessment of gender equity by examining existing third party data on gender in the global cocoa sector and by using this review to identify knowledge gaps. In conjunction with the V4C assessment, the company will establish a set of draft gender equity indicators that align with Vision for Change and can also be used across the global cocoa sector. By January 1, 2015, Mars Chocolate will use this review to advocate for and support a sector level review of gender equity in cocoa production through selected sector-wide organizations. Additionally, the company will support a sector level plan of action to address gender equity concerns.
With regard to transparency, Mars Chocolate will also begin regularly reporting on the condition of women in cocoa production in its top four cocoa origin countries by 2018. The company will establish a corresponding plan of action in these origin countries as well.
"We applaud Mars' leadership in making these initial commitments," said Alison Woodhead, campaign manager for Oxfam's Behind the Brands campaign. "Companies need to understand and disclose the condition of women producers in their supply chains as a first step toward addressing inequities and improving livelihoods. We look forward to seeing Mars turn this pledge into concrete action."