I recently learned a term I was unfamiliar with: pre-competitive cooperation. I was moderating a panel on sustainability in the beverage industry with panelists from wine, beer and spirits companies, and in our pre-panel phone discussion, the term came up and it ended up being a major focus of the actual panel discussion.
When companies that compete for the same market share work together to solve mutual problems, it's known as pre-competitive cooperation. In the beverage industry, you can see this type of cooperation when companies work together on sustainable packaging or responsible water management.
The chocolate industry has released a statement of intent to work together in a similar way. Their focus will be to "end deforestation and forest degradation in the local supply chain, with an initial focus on Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire," according to the The Cocoa and Forests Initiative signed by the leaders of 12 different chocolate companies. Global companies including Hershey, Mars, Nestle, and Mondelez will work with each other, local and country governments, farmers, civil society organizations, development partners and others to make progress on their deforestation goals in the cocoa sector.
The problem of deforestation
The wold is eating and drinking a lot of chocolate, and that consumption is not leveling off. Without intervention, cocoa producing regions will continue to lose forests and biodiversity.
Across Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America — where the majority of cocoa is grown — deforestation is a significant environmental problem. While there is no definitive data on how much deforestation has happened due to cocoa production, Quartz reports that the World Cocoa Foundation suspects West Africa and the Amazon "have experienced large-scale logging to make way for commercial cocoa development." Ghana is losing about 2 percent of its forests each year. It's believed that the percentage is even higher in Côte d’Ivoire. Over the last 60 years, cocoa production has increased 275 percent, according to United Nations data.
Deforestation means that trees disappear. When trees disappear, air quality, climate, and animal and insect habitats suffer, and more greenhouse gasses are emitted — and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
It's not just the environment that's affected by the deforestation for cocoa production. The industry is harming itself. In a speech given at the signing of the Cocoa and Forest Initiative, Prince Charles reminded the chocolate companies "that deforestation threatens to undermine the very resilience of the cocoa sector itself, and with it the livelihoods of the millions of smallholders who depend on it, due to the increased climate variability that follows forest loss."
We all know the saying about good intentions, and I think it's worth pointing out that this is a statement of intent, not a plan of action. While the statement indicates that the 12 companies intend to work together to end deforestation and forest degradation, there are no details on how it will happen — yet. The statement says that by 2018, those involved in the initiative will "align individual company action plans with the common vision and joint framework ... to reach our respective deforestation commitments in the cocoa sector."
We don't know yet how the trees will be saved, but, there is hope that the companies will make good on their intentions. Why? Because as Prince Charles said, doing so is good for business. And, as I recently pointed out when writing about how much money companies can gain when investing in curbing food waste, sometimes it's the bottom line that encourages a company to do the smart thing.